High-precision Grinding Plays Key Role in Shop’s Evolution
While most shops strive to maintain the most customers possible, Eva-Lution in Angola, Indiana, realized that too many customers could actually be bad for business. So the shop evaluated its list of 240 customers and whittled it down to just 14 to provide the best possible service and fulfill orders to the highest quality standards.
At the end of 2010, the owners of Eva-Lution, then known as C&K Tool, evaluated the shop’s strategic business model and determined that future success depended on the development of longstanding partnerships. At the time, the shop offered an overly broad part production range for a wide array of industry segments and provided customers with services from milling and turning to wire EDM and precision grinding.
This is when Eva-Lution turned its focus to those jobs for which it could guarantee the highest quality products possible and concentrated on consistently delivering excellent parts and building trust through outstanding performance. The shop also determined that it needed to expand its high-precision grinding capabilities to not only produce the highest quality parts, but to do so cost effectively.
“We knew from day one that our focus had to be high-precision grinding,” said Mike Pahl, president of Eva-Lution. Initially the shop had two grinding machines equipped with flexible robot loading systems. The two easy-to-use grinders produced precise, high quality parts in a single clamping. Eva-Lution recognized the accuracy and efficiency of these machines as the keys to its success.
The shop used its two initial grinders, MINI POWER machines from UNITED GRINDING, to increase its production of bone drills, reamers, screws and other surgical implements for the medical industry. With the influx of medical work, Eva-Lution was able to add a 5-axis WALTER HELITRONIC ESSENTIAL CNC tool grinder, two WALTER HELITRONIC VISION tool grinders and most recently a WALTER HELICHECK measuring system – all also from UNITED GRINDING. The newer grinders were also equipped with automation for lights-out operation to further expand the shop’s overall capacity.
Eva-Lution creates a broad range of tool geometries for its customers using HELITRONIC ToolStudio CAD/CAM software. Specialized tool making methods in WALTER Window Mode make it easy for the shop to design and execute new tool programs.
The high-precision grinders are particularly advantageous when it comes to the extremely sharp cutting edges needed on certain surgical tools, especially those made from stainless steel. The material is more flexible than those typically used for metalworking cutting tools, and it is gummier and more prone to burring and burning. The WALTER grinders – with the right wheel run at optimal speeds and feedrates, according to Brent Weisenauer, operations manager at Eva-Lution, overcome these challenges and produce a higher quality cutting edge in less time.
“Our WALTER machines are very user-friendly, rigid and precise,” he added. “I’ve been grinding for 33 years, and WALTER far exceeds all other brands on the market.”
Along the way and after all the changes in customers and the type of work the shop was doing under the C&K Tool name, one of its employees commented that the shop had evolved into a completely different business. The owners took that idea and came up with the shop’s Eva-Lution name.
Along with its new name came one of the most exciting additions to Eva-Lution’s lineup of WALTER machines – its new HELICHECK contact-free measurement system. The HELICHECK uses light cameras to complete fully automated measurement of complex profiles and forms of rotation-symmetrical parts.
The HELICHECK allows Eva-Lution to automate its quality control and decrease inspection time per part from 15 minutes to three minutes. Now an operator can focus on setting up and running machines instead of stopping to perform time-consuming quality assurance tasks, which increases productivity in the shop. Also, Weisenauer said that the HELICHECK system delivers far more accuracy than even the best hand-held measurement device.
Advanced software on the HELICHECK allows Eva-Lution to monitor parts and fine tune grinding and machining programs in real time, resulting in higher efficiency and less waste. HELICHECK’s Easy Check software stores measuring programs and lets Eva-Lution quickly measure identical parts.
Moving forward, HELICHECK will play an integral role in Eva-Lution’s achievement of its business goals, including “dock to stock” capability. With this ability, the shop will send parts to medical companies and have those parts entered directly into stock without inspection and verification by the customer. To meet this target, Eva-Lution must be able to prove it can consistently run high-quality parts. HELICHECK software gives the shop the quality control data it needs, while statistical process control software analyzes that data and provides trend analysis.
WALTER software has also helped Eva-Lution transition to paperless data. High volumes of data generated in part production and quality checking are more accessible and usable in electronic forms. Easy transfer and storage of part production files has increased the shop’s appeal because medical companies need those files on hand for their device history records. One day medical companies may require manufacturers to provide digital quality assurance data, so the shop’s proactive approach to data keeps them ahead of the curve.
Eva-Lution’s reputation for the shortest lead times in the medical industry has been critical to the shop’s advancement in that segment, and its customer base has grown to approximately 40 customers. Throughout its growth, the shop continues to partner with customers with whom it can build relationships. For several customers, Eva-Lution keeps stock on hand, so when an order is placed, the shop has a head start on production. This practice cuts lead times from six to eight weeks down to just four weeks.
With the additional capital generated by the new customers and the stronger business from long-time partners, Eva-Lution has brought work back in house that it once outsourced. The shop has acquired equipment for electro polishing, passivation and laser etching. The ability to do more work in house has helped them shorten delivery times even further.
“Our strategy is finally starting to pay off,” said Weisenauer. “We’re acquiring new equipment. We’re hiring new people. We’re bringing in processes that we were outsourcing before. We’re taking it to the next level.”
Eva-Lution’s next move is the expansion of their range of surgical tools to include hip broaches. The shop plans to use its WALTER grinders and software to turn out the most accurate hip rasps.
“We’re going to lead the market in grinding hip rasps and using the HELICHECK for quality control,” explained Weisenauer. “We’ll be the only company in the nation that can give true data on the positions and the form of the rasp with the HELICHECK.”
While Eva-Lution continues to add new equipment and customers, it maintains its focus on partnerships – both with customers and its suppliers like United Grinding – to ensure the continuation of success for the shop and its customers. The shop concentrates on only those processes and practices that promise the highest quality parts, which, for Eva-Lution, means a persistent focus on high-precision grinding.