US company Rochester Medical Implants (RMI) employs 15 Haas vertical mills to turn the ideas of leading surgeons into life-enhancing treatments for patients all over the world.
An increasing demand for orthopaedic implants and instruments caused by an ageing population is good news for companies such as RMI that has built a reputation as a specialist producer of precision parts for intricate spinal surgery. Advances in medical technology allow surgeons to replace damaged bones and joints using parts made by RMI at its factory in Northern Indiana.
According to James Evans, RMI’s President and General Manager, the company began as a supplier of surgical implants and instruments to a large OEM. Following an internal reorganisation, and with some support from Tim Taylor, the Haas Factory Outlet (HFO) Midwest sales manager, RMI began making parts from Peek-Optima, a light but strong thermoplastic suitable for long-term implants.
Production problems were resolved with the help of tooling suppliers recommended by Tim who guided them on the right way to cut the material. This led RMI to invest in a new 30,000rpm Haas mill, which through its very sharp tooling and high spindle speeds, significantly improved their ability to achieve excellent surface finishes with Peek.
Investing in skilled people was another vital step in RMI’s recovery. Evans notes that they needed good CAD/CAM talent to get the most from their CNC machines. RMI hired two excellent engineers including a Mastercam programmer as well as the top graduate from the Haas Technical Education Centre at the nearby Vincennes University where third-year engineering students in the manufacturing technology program have to complete 800 hours of Mastercam machining, modelling and Haas vertical milling.
Today, every product made at RMI starts as a 3D model in its CAD/CAM system. According to David Langenkamp, RMI’s director of manufacturing, thanks to their CAD/CAM and Mastercam talent, they have the ability to build a 3D model when a customer cannot provide one. RMI uses the models to generate programs for its CNC machines, posting directly from Mastercam to the mills using the USB ports. Any minor changes can be reprogrammed in a few minutes.
RMI works in a range of materials including titanium, stainless steel, cobalt chrome, tantalum and Peek-Optima. The firm also records all its manufacturing and measuring steps in accordance with an overhauled quality control system, which it introduced on the way to achieving ISO 13845 certification. RMI invested in eight new Haas machines including two additional 30,000rpm mills for the dedicated Peek cutting room, and six 15,000rpm mills for the metal cutting floor. The company has continuously invested in people and machines, currently employing 32 staff and 15 Haas vertical mills.
About 80% of RMI’s work involves producing high-precision orthopaedic implants, mainly for spinal surgery, and about 20% involves making the instruments used in the surgery. Evans explains that they specialise in the spinal market because it demands creative solutions, and offers very stable growth. RMI grew nearly 25% last year and expects a better performance this year.
Describing the process, Langenkamp explains that surgeons come up with the ideas, which are then developed by the OEMs who contract RMI to manufacture them. RMI does not own the intellectual property on the devices; however they own the IP on the manufacturing processes. Rapid prototyping is done on their Haas Mini Mill, particularly to allow a customer to test a device before submitting it to the FDA for approval.
The full article, Bringing surgeons’ ideas to life by Matt Bailey is available in the latest edition of the AMTIL