Precision Medical Manufacturing

Precision Edge
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Medical practitioners around the world would not be able to successfully perform procedures and provide a satisfactory level of care to their patients if they lacked the necessary tools and resources to do so. And many of those tools, chiefly surgical cutting tools and instruments for orthopedic procedures, would not be possible without Precision Edge.
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Precision Edge is contract manufacturer of surgical tools and accessories for the orthopedic, ear, nose and throat, neurology, podiatry, arthroscopy and plastic surgery disciplines. While the majority of its customers are domestic, the company also has an international presence.

“In terms of the distribution of our products, our customers are design responsible, so we ship direct to all of our customers and they send the product wherever the product has been launched in the different markets globally,” explained President Todd Fewins.

Precision Edge was established in 1989 by Founder and Chief Technical Officer (CTO) Greg May, as a garage startup that had a primary focus on edged instruments used in arthroscopy, trauma and neurological procedures. Today it is a Colson Group Associate member company that supports DFM with its customers, develops processes and manufactures bone saws and soft tissue blades, broaches and rasps, burs, drills and reamers, non-cutting tool instruments, implantable screws and bone taps, as well as prototypes and special requests.

The company is located in Northern Michigan, headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie with a second location in Boyne City. While the population of these areas had limited experience in the medical manufacturing market, May recognized it as an innovative and extremely hardworking population that could be trained to serve Precision Edge’s needs. The 38,000 square foot Sault Ste. Marie facility opened in 2000 and houses just under 200 of Precision Edge’s 260 employees. The Boyne facility was established in 2012 to grow capacity to address an increase in demand by adding 37,000 square feet of manufacturing space to its operations.

Precision Edge’s operations are vertically integrated from start to finish, from raw material sourcing, prototyping and instrumentation, through to performance evaluation and cut testing. The company has expansive machining capabilities and deep rooted technical expertise that enables it to manufacture products that conform to customer drawings and specifications.

“We try to do as much as we can internally and then we rely on our coating and some of the heat treating to do on the outside. So we start with blank material on a lathe, all the way through final pack and final cleaning operations to supply our customers with a quality product that meets their drawing requirements,” explained Fewins.

Throughout the years, Precision Edge has expanded its size, its capacity and its offerings, by innovating products and growing its team of engineers and machinists who manufacture its high-quality surgical cutting tools, instruments and accessories that meet the unique needs of its customers.

“What works for one type of surgery may not work for another type of surgery, so our understanding the product intent helps our customer in terms of driving the design with innovation. Our team has a lot of experience in this industry, which allows us to really do a great job of servicing customers with technical expertise and the ability to tailor those designs created by our customers to match up with the product intent,” Fewins noted.

The priority at Precision Edge is to service the customer and according to Fewins, that service comes through in three different ways: program management, technical support that meets application specific requirements and a really strong launch program that enables the team to mitigate risks.

“We try to take care of issues as far upstream as we can to make sure that we’ve got a successful launch that gets quality products that meets all the drawings and specifications to the customer on time,” said Fewins.

Growth at Precision Edge has been attributed to strong hiring, training, the commitment to manufacturing products that outperform the competition at a lower price point, exceeding quality standards and ensuring deliveries are made on time.

“We spend a lot of time training in both quality and safety to ensure our employees are following procedure and working to yield the best product in a safe manner and we really start that on day one with an employee. We go through an employee orientation process that really highlights those two areas before they even walk out onto the production floor,” Fewins explained.

“In terms of quality, as a manufacturer, regardless of industry, you don’t stay in business very long if you don’t supply quality product but I think Precision Edge has taken quality to a different level,” he said. The goal is to have the sharpest cutting edges in the industry to ensure physician confidence and procedural success.

“Being able to supply very high quality product on time to our customers – that’s really what sells manufacturing. We’re in a position where we don’t have an external sales force and the business has grown based on reputation, which is very unique in itself.” Precision Edge is ISO 13485:2016 certified and registered with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Precision Edge’s growth is directly linked to its ability to secure and retain talent. Not unlike other manufacturers and other industries across the United States and Canada, a shortage of labor persists and can threaten its future growth.

“We’ve got a great core group of people that have a wealth of knowledge, not just in machining but in our industry, and that allows us to train people as they come in and then really help them grow their career path in manufacturing. The challenge, not just for us, or not just for medical manufacturing, but really all manufacturing, is trying to find enough employees to fill positions,” Fewins said.

Given this understanding of the market conditions Precision Edge is subject to, it has worked hard to improve the labor pool from which it draws by changing perceptions of manufacturing careers and communicating the benefits and advantages a manufacturing career can afford.

“The kids coming out of high school are the future of our company and if we’re not doing those things and not promoting those things, then we’re setting ourselves up to fail,” Fewins explained, which the company achieves through partnerships with various levels of government, local educational institutions and manufacturing partners.

An example of this partnership at work is what is called the Mobile Digital Fab Lab, which was undertaken with North Central Michigan College and supported by various levels of government. The Mobile Digital Fab Lab is a 44-foot self-contained mobile training trailer that is equipped with CNC programming and machining capacity to offer training to public schools, private companies, Michigan Works and even higher-education institutions in Emmet, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Antrim counties.

“It goes to high schools throughout the year that don’t necessarily have the funding available to educate students on manufacturing and specifically, machining. We have worked closely with the high school and we’ve got several people on the advisory board, not only for the manufacturing or machining side of the training that the school offers but also on the business side,” said Fewins, to promote the opportunities that exist in manufacturing.

Students and participants gain exposure to CAD and CAM software, CNC lathes and CNC mills, and have a hands-on experience at one of the lab’s twelve computer stations. There is also an instructor station and a smartboard to support learning.

In its endeavors to improve education, grow an interest in manufacturing and rebuild the labor pool in the markets it calls home, Precision Edge is proving that it is good at more than manufacturing a superior product: it’s good for industry and the community.

“Our parent company and Precision Edge as well, we always had the mindset and the philosophy that we need to continue to enhance and improve our communities and that happens through outreach, through donations, activities, donating our time for different projects, supporting the schools in different ways,” said Fewins. “When we enhance our community it ultimately gives our employees and their families a better quality of life in the area,” which helps to attract skilled labor to the region to better support manufacturing.

Everything Precision Edge does is done in an effort to continue to provide outstanding service, a quality product and timely results each and every time, with a vision for the company for the long-term. The goal is to invest in non-cutting tool manufacturing capabilities to open up new market opportunities for itself.

“We are trying to work toward expanding into non-cutting tool and instruments that are used in surgery. The way our business works, all the cutting tools are single use so as a surgery takes place, the surgeon pulls out different tools, implants, devices and instruments that are used in surgery and in the case of the products that we manufacture, for cutting tools, once the surgery is over, those tools are discarded,” Fewins explained.

Precision Edge is also investing in new technologies and manufacturing equipment to remain competitive in the industry. When labor is an ongoing challenge, increased automation and expanded manufacturing capabilities are a temporary solution.

“What we’ve been trying to do is look at, from a technology perspective, what we can do to try to use technology to try to lessen the impact of not having enough people to fill positions. We’ve got some different types of equipment that we’re looking at, and in some cases, have on order, that will help address those kinds of issues.”

As product and process innovators, Precision Edge not only aspires to be a leader, it demonstrates why it is a leader. Delivering the sharpest cutting edges in the industry, helping surgeons remain confident in their skills to deliver the best healthcare outcomes for their patients, precision is not only in the company name, it’s in the products and the service it offers.

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