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From Gadgets and Guns to Medical Devices

July 19, 2017

Don’t let the name fool you. Northeast Laser & Electropolish (NLE) in Monroe, Connecticut, competes internationally, wins big with medical original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and applies machining and other disciplines well beyond its moniker.

The journey started in 1993, when Rich Rosselli and Kurt England, two young engineers manufacturing blood analyzers and centrifuge products at DuPont, realized they shared the entrepreneurial bug. England had overseen DuPont’s transition from product marking using roll engraving or screen printing to the then-new process of laser engraving. He saw an opportunity for a laser-marking firm in Connecticut that could be more responsive to customer needs. The partners bought a laser from General Scanning and took the plunge.

“It was a tough sale,” Rosselli recalls. “Two guys and a laser trying to convince medical companies they should change what they were doing and go with us.”

Luckily, their ability to engrave promotional products and firearms found a receptive market, sustaining them for the first two years.

The right people, services

Success in the promotional products and firearms markets enabled NLE to buy an additional laser and to hire more people, launching them into larger industrial accounts. Among the key hires in the ’90s were Tom Hecht and John Franchi who became co-owners through sweat equity.

Hecht was doing quality control at DuPont and pushed NLE into automatic indexing and handling parts, “capabilities serving us well to this day,” Rosselli says.

Franchi joined as a sales engineer and was instrumental in guiding NLE into new opportunities, broadening NLE’s appeal beyond the immediate geographic area. Medical accounts, in particular, were unwilling to send parts any distance just to get laser marking. Franchi noted that many of these parts were electropolished right before laser marking and passivated immediately afterward. So NLE added those capabilities, expanding its marketability.

“At about the same time we took our now extensive laser knowledge and added laser welding,” Rosselli says. “This meant we could assemble, weld, electropolish, mark, and passivate, all within a few days. We had already established a company with a great focus on customers and rapid turnaround. We were using technology wherever we could to improve efficiency. But now people realized we had a really valuable combination of offerings and unique talents in handling parts.”

The big leagues

Franchi brought an exciting opportunity in 2009: “One of the top 40 medical OEMs was building a single-use, outpatient, multi-component device in Costa Rica. The assembly required eleven welds, and every time a weld failed – which happened with some frequency – they had to throw out the entire lot of 300. Once we applied laser welding, the strength went up by a factor of two to three and the reject rate dropped to basically zero.”

Dave Hornak engineered a process that uses a vision system to automatically target the laser and a motion control system to make all the necessary gyrations to orient the part for the 11 welds. The operator simply loads the next part while the machine is welding.

This doubled their production rate, allowing them to price the job so competitively that they’ve been doing it for more than seven years with rising volumes.

“The customer originally thought that we would develop the process and then they’d take it in-house. But when they saw the six-station line we’d built here and the level of complexity involved, they decided it would be better to leave it with us. We now run lots of 3,000 using a fully validated process,” Franchi says.

Rosselli adds that Franchi, Hornak, and their team built and validated the entire line in three months, meeting the customer’s tight schedule. “In most companies this would have been a six-to-nine-month project.”

NLE has gone from a company that performed a few operations on other people’s components, to becoming a contract manufacturer that builds the entire assembly, solving a variety of customer challenges. This has earned them a place as a direct supplier to six of the top 40 medical OEMS and a Tier II supplier to most of the remainder. The latest step in this journey depended on yet more technology – the Tsugami LaserSwiss.

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Click here for a related blog post: “Laser Lathes Consolidate Medical Manufacturing”