Article & Photos by Sean Buur
LISI Medical is part of the LISI Group, a worldwide company specializing in the design and manufacture of assembly solutions. The LISI Group operates in three major markets: aerospace, automotive, and since 2007 medical.
The LISI Group is a 240 year old company from Eastern France that got their start manufacturing carriage bolts. That expertise transferred to the horseless carriage business and eventually into aerospace. They are the #3 provider of aircraft hardware in the world. Get on any Boeing or Airbus plane and you are flying LISI fasteners. The LISI Group employs 11,000 people globally, spread between its 43 sites in 14 counties. With combined annual sales above $1.6 billion they are a publicly traded company in Europe. Like so many companies steeped in hundreds of years of tradition the founding families are still heavily involved.
“The medical segment of the company is relatively new,” tells LISI Medical general manager Richard Warren. “Like a lot of companies that operate in automotive and aerospace we selected medical as a way to expand business and continue our growth. In 2007 we purchased a small medical manufacturing company in Escondido, Ca. as well as a couple of others in France. We put together the medical business understanding that we have a huge resource of global machining and manufacturing. The industries we serve are highly regulated, with very strong quality and delivery performance demands. We already have the highest standards so medical was a perfect fit for continued growth on a global scale.”
LISI Medical has historically been more strongly focused in France with multiple manufacturing centers, metal forging and corporate headquarters all being in their home country. Their 25,000sq.ft. California based plan is the smallest of the major manufacturing facilities, but a second US based facility is in the works. “We are growing our medical business here in the US,” explains Richard. “LISI Medical has just acquired Remmele Medical Minnesota to strengthen our US base. Our Normandy facility manufactures replacement hip and knee assemblies with a staff of 400. Our Lyon and Escondido facilities are modeled after each other and are staffed with 100 or so people each.” All of the LISI Group sites are ISO1345, OHSAS 18001, and have the voluntary ISO 14001 environmental certification. Safety and minimizing their environmental footprint is a high priority throughout the company. It is important to them as a global company and to the customers they serve.
LISI Medical’s Escondido, CA. plant is primarily a Swiss turning facility, but they also have milling, surface finishing, deburring, anodizing and a state of the art QC department. With 45+ turning centers and nearly a dozen milling machines the shop floor is packed in tight. “Our density of machines is very high,” describes Richard. “We primarily manufacture dental, spine, trauma, and reconstruction implants. We are very good at micro machining with our Citizen and Tsugami Swiss turning centers.”
LISI Medical is primarily a Citizen shop, with nearly 40 machines lined up. What you don’t expect to see in a wall of Citizens is a trio of Tsugami S206s. “The Citizen L20 is our benchmark machine,” tells Richard. “We have rows and rows of them for a reason; they are a great do it all machine. It is quite a jump when you have 39 of a certain machine then even consider buying a different brand you have no experience with at all.” LISI Medical began looking at the Tsugami platform as part of a large bone screw project. The customer’s demand for annual run rates was around 5,000 units a month. After doing a program optimization it looked like they needed to submit a capital proposal for two more machines. “I’ve always been in contact with Ellison Technologies, even though we didn’t have any of their Tsugami machines,” expands Richard. “I put the challenge out to them that if they could integrate all the volume into a single S206 then it would make sense to add a different brand machining center into the mix. The prospect of buying one machine instead of two was very attractive.”
Knowing that they had to make it worth the commitment, Ellison Technologies came back to Richard and his team with a proposal that said they could get it done with a single, heavily loaded S206 machining center. “1.1 machine worth of capacity is two machines, and .98 percent of capacity is one machine,” elaborates Richard. “The difference isn’t .12 it is another machine costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Tsugami didn’t cut our cycle times in half, but they did reduce my capital investment by half because of their improved cycle times. The Tsugami S206 offers a few advantages when it came to manufacturing our bone screw. In our case, the thread whirling unit offered a significant speed upgrade.” Tsugami’s thread whirling head is a multi-cutting unit designed to machine exotic metals with the uttermost precision. It is large, strong, rigid and placed close to the bushing, allowing it to cut faster and more accurately than a standard Swiss style machine. “There is a genuine technical advantage with the thread whirling head,” tells Richard. “The proof is that we only needed to buy one machine.”
Richard and his team have been very impressed with Tsugami thus far. Besides being a fan of the thread whirling head, Richard expressed his thoughts on some of the other features. “For the price you pay you get a lot of tooling availability. The number of tools, and the number of live tools is great. The goal in most cases, but especially in Swiss machining is to have a finished part and avoid secondary operations. More tools make that possible.” At LISI Medical a dropped part is a finished part. Ergonomics is an often overlooked luxury when purchasing a machine tool, but Richard was quick to point out the door access on the Tsugami. “I know it sounds like a strange thing to say about a machining center, but the door access is phenomenal. A lot of Swiss machines have a small sliding door. The Tsugami has a raised door allowing for more access. We have 6’ plus, 200 pound guys out running the machines and they appreciate the extra ease of mobility during setup, maintenance and running parts.” Rigidity is also important to LISI Medical because they work a lot with harder metals and have tight tolerance requirements. The part being run on the machine at time of the interview has a half inch bore with two tenths tolerance inside the bore. Typically LISI’s work envelope is sub 1 thousandths tolerance.
Nearly as important as the spec is the finish, and once again the Swiss machines deliver. In the medical field, especially dental look and finish are key elements. “We are very good at micro machining,” expresses Richard. “Small, complicated parts with high finish expectations are where we thrive. It’s not enough for us to meet the spec, it has to look good doing it. Our finishes are in the 8-16 range typically.”
With LISI Medical having zero experience running the Tsugami platform Ellison Technologies set the new machine up on their floor and proved out the part. When they installed the machine at its new home in Escondido it was ready to go into production. “Ellison Technologies support from the get go has been very, very good,” details Richard. “They don’t just sell you a machine and you never hear from them again. Ellison delivered us a turn-key product, and the first part we ran was sent to QC for first article inspections. Technical support has been very high starting with programming all the way through our onsite training.” LISI Medical liked the first S206 so much they picked up two more from a local medical company that was no longer going to manufacture in house. “Our first machine has been on the floor for less than a year,” tells Richard. “Our two new S206’s have been qualified for less than two months. Partially we picked and acquired machines 2 and 3 for redundancy, but we really like the Tsugamis as a whole and welcomed two more to our shop floor.”
Richard, a mechanical engineer by trade has been with the LISI Group for ten years. After getting his start with Ford in the UK he moved around between a few aerospace companies before becoming the operations director at the LISI bolt manufacturing facility in Torrance, Ca. “We leverage our size here in Escondido” touts Richard. “You can say you are small or you can say you are dynamic. We can get everyone together in half a day and go forward with whatever we need to do.” They use their size to be agile, and it gives them the flexibility that larger work sites don’t have. Richard likes to describe quality to his team using the example. “You can’t talk about medical quality in terms of acceptable quality levels of, say, 99%: How many replacement hips do you get in your lifetime? The most you can get is two, but more likely you only get one, what if that was the 1% bad?! The only acceptable quality level on surgical implants is 100%. You can’t say 99% is ok. We know this, and manufacture to that standard.”