Machining In Paradise

After starting C-Axis in 1997 in Minnesota, CEO Jeff Haley moved to open a plant in Puerto Rico in 2003 to take advantage of medical machining opportunities on the island.

Among the first thoughts that come to mind when hearing Puerto Rico mentioned are cruise ships, baseball, Piña Colada or any other number of other visages of relaxation or vacation. For many of us, high-tech multi-axis lathes and cutting edge CAD/CAM technology fall pretty low on the list of images that come to mind when thinking of this Caribbean paradise. As it turns out, Puerto Rico is a world leader for medical device manufacturing, shipping well over $2 billion worth of medical devices per year, placing the tiny island U.S. commonwealth 8th on the world list of medical device shipments.

Jeff Haley, the Founder and CEO of C-Axis Inc., a Minnesota-based job shop, recognized the unique opportunity for contract manufacturing of medical devices in Puerto Rico and took the plunge by opening a plant there in 2003, just six years after starting his company in Hamel, Minnesota. Since then, C-Axis’s Puerto Rican operation has flourished; growing to upwards of 50 employees to serve a number of the leading medical device companies with major operations there. Many of the world’s largest medical device companies boast extensive operations on this island including such bellwether names as Medtronic, Stryker, Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Surgical among others. Puerto Rico has been an attractive spot for medical manufacturers for a number of reasons including the island’s accommodating tax code and relatively low labor costs.

The key to C-Axis’s growth in Puerto Rico has been its ability to manufacture complex, hi-quality medical parts very efficiently. To do so, it relies on a bank of six multi-axis CNC mills and Swiss type lathes, the most complex of which is a twelve-axis Star ECAS-20T. Of course, when programming such sophisticated parts on such complex machines, being able to quote, program and set jobs up efficiently is paramount. To achieve this efficiency, C-axis relies on PartMaker CAM software to help automate these processes.

"We focus primarily on the medical device industry. We manufacture parts for the orthopedic, neurological, cardiovascular, arthroscopy, endoscopy, oncology and dental,” says Haley. "Some of our biggest challenges include designing the machining process that meets our quality standards, proving out the processes before breaking into the machines productivity and reducing our set-up times. We need a CAM system that allows us to design and troubleshoot our processes off line. This can all be done on an inexpensive computer versus on a very expensive machine tool. Additionally we can examine and optimize the process prior to even starting the set-up. This way, when we load the programs and setup the machine, we are almost done.”