Hiding in Plain Sight
With Surfcam Traditional, GCX Mounting Solutions produces medical instrument and IT mounting solutions that can be found in hospitals worldwide.
"We have to constantly be looking at technology to make sure we’re staying competitive, and Surfcam has done a remarkable job of keeping up with all of that. They always seem to be one step ahead of what the industry is asking for." - Rich Dodele, manufacturing manager
It’s no secret to manufacturers that countless products used on a daily basis tend to fly under the radar of those of us who use them.
Such is the case with the medical mounting systems designed and manufactured by GCX Mounting Solutions, headquartered in Petaluma, California. While the utility of its products is unquestionable, the vital goods manufactured by GCX often go unnoticed precisely because they perform their jobs so well.
“If you have ever been in a hospital, you’ve seen something that we have made,” said Rich Dodele, manufacturing manager at the company’s Petaluma facility. “We are in hospitals worldwide because all of the devices in medical facilities have to be mounted somehow. There has to be some kind of bracketing, stand or cart that holds them or moves them into place; that’s what we do.”
While the 45-year-old international company has changed its manufacturing processes over the years, it has successfully managed to keep many of its jobs firmly on American soil. GCX manufactures products for OEM partners in addition to conducting direct off-the-shelf business.
“At GCX, we believe that we utilize the manufacturing model as well as anyone because we’ve been able to maintain around 300 U.S. employees, and we do manufacturing around the world,” Dodele said.
The Petaluma location handles customer service, sales, design, engineering, prototyping, product testing and introduction, as well as some shipping activities. The GCX facility in El Paso, Texas, provides customer service, engineering, mid-level production, assembly and shipping, while a partner in Taiwan performs all high-volume production and assembly. The company also maintains warehouses in various locations throughout the United States, Taiwan, and Europe.
“You see the bigger companies jump everything overseas, but we kept a layered look at manufacturing and have remained successful.” For more than a decade, Dodele and his team have used the Surfcam Traditional computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) solution, by Vero Software, to program parts for its range of mounting solutions.
“We have to be competitive, and we view ourselves as the leaders of the market we’re in,” he said. “We have to constantly be looking at technology to make sure we’re staying competitive, and Surfcam has done a remarkable job of keeping up with all of that. They always seem to be one step ahead of what the industry is asking for.”
While the concept and utility of parts made at GCX hasn’t changed over the years, the company has significantly transformed its manufacturing methods. Parts once CNC machined from aluminum extrusions are now die cast by injection mold, with machined features and finishing work completed in Surfcam Traditional.
“The concept hasn’t changed, but the designs have,” Dodele said. “It just gets harder and harder to machine 2,500 parts as opposed to die-casting 2,500 parts. When we determined we were going away from machining parts to die casting parts, we were going for a different look, less industrial and more clinical.”
GCX machines in up to four axes with accurate, collision-free toolpath generated in Surfcam Traditional. The company utilizes multiple live-tooling stations for much of its machinery, including 12 Haas and Fadal mills, two Mazak Horizontal mills, and the Mazak 200 MSY multi-tasking turning center.
Dodele and his team use the Pro/ENGINEER computer-aided-design (CAD) system, by PTC®, to design new parts and make changes to existing models. Once those solid-models are seamlessly imported into Surfcam Traditional, Dodele and his team are able to select features to be machined, including holes, pockets, bosses, fillets, chamfers, and more.
“Surfcam is one of the tools that allows us to get our product to market much faster. It takes us hours to do now what it used to take us days to do,” Dodele said. “It allows us to create features you can customize that are difficult to machine in cost-effective ways.”
The GCX Petaluma facility takes advantage of Surfcam Traditional’s TRUEMill machining cycle for fast and accurate prototype turn around. TRUEMill is an optimized roughing toolpath that can be completed with a one-step 3D roughing through pre-finishing operation.
“The biggest enhancement that Surfcam Traditional made is the TRUEMill feature, because it allows you to fully engage your tool and make the most of your material,” said Dodele, who primarily machines aluminum, cold-rolled and hot-rolled steel, and some stainless steel. “We’ve been able to be really ultra-aggressive and really utilize the tool.”
With TRUEMill, Surfcam Traditional delivers a synchronized multiple-tool strategy that coordinates up to eight tools in a single operation. The toolpath creates uniform step height across all surfaces, regardless of how many tools are used. It also removes material at significantly faster rates, and at greater depths of cut.
“Without Surfcam, I wouldn’t be able to turn requests from engineers around as quickly as we do,” Dodele said. “We’re reaping the benefits of the manufacturing challenges that Surfcam is developing solutions for. If we didn’t have Surfcam, we would have to do something different — and that may be taking some employees out of the U.S. and sending business overseas.”
Before Surfcam Traditional, Dodele, who has worked in manufacturing at the Petaluma facility for more than 30 years, programmed his machinery by hand.
“In longhand, 250 lines of code is a lot of code,” he said. “Literally, what used to take us days to do now takes minutes to do because Surfcam uses the geometry to the fullest. It’s quickly, easily and accurately generating 1,500 lines of code.”
Dodele noted that Surfcam’s support has also helped GCX to remain successfully up and running for more than a decade.
“The support is one of the real positives with Surfcam. We will have in-house training where they come to work with our guys for two or three days. It can be introducing a student to Surfcam, or having an advanced user come in and ask very specific questions,” Dodele said. “I can’t afford to be down and I can’t afford to have a question not answered. If we have an issue, we never wait more than 24 hours for them to get back to us.”
GCX plans for continued growth in 2016, with new products that include its new Variable Height Adjustable Arm and new Patient Engagement Table. For the first time, it will also market a variety of IT mounting solutions for manufacturing and industrial companies.
“We utilize our product throughout our manufacturing facilities, as it allows our employees to be more productive and have a more comfortable working environment,” Dodele says. “We feel we have the best IT mounting product on the market and we shouldn’t limit our product to just medical. With the tools and support of Surfcam, we hope to continue to grow and provide all markets with the best most reliable mounting solution hardware possible.”