Are some complex manufacturing jobs better off being (hand) crafted?

Advantage Engineering Medical Devices Craftsmanship

Manufacturers that dare aren’t afraid of complexity.

Engineers and design teams often come up with ideas and evaluate the feasibility of those on paper. Bringing those ideas to life is up to the manufacturers they work with. The true strength of these manufacturers, their experience, and their capabilities is put to the test when the job is complex.

Advantage Engineering doesn’t push clients to simplify their designs when they’re complex. So long as their mathematical models are technically sound, we push ourselves to find ways to breathe life into their drawings. Yes, this requires a degree of imagination – but it also requires a strong consultative approach that leverages the breadth of our 26-years of experience, our scores of workmen, and our numerous commercial-grade equipment spread over 220,000+ sq. ft. of our facilities.

The truth is, when things are complex, we work our magic by manufacturing what’s possible and (hand) crafting what’s challenging, to ultimately deliver on the customer’s expectations – or rather, their vision.

Let’s talk about one of our customers who we make ‘medical beds’ for. These are beds that go on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines and hence, demand that attention is paid to not just how and where they’re made but also what they’re made of. Quality control, therefore, is critical – and the standards that the product must adhere to are high.

The customer’s engineering and design team came to Advantage Engineering looking for a product that could be RoHS approved. At the time, they had certain ideas in their mind about what the product needed to do but didn’t have the specifications down on paper. Their team was attracted to us because of our consultative approach and were confident that we had the right knowledge and experience to support their mission.

Given the expansive facilities we operate out of, the customer’s team was able to set up within our offices to accelerate the work that they had set out to do.

Over a six-month period, we went over the customer’s design ideas several times. We knew that the final product needed to be made out of fiberglass, but there are myriad possibilities in that space so we tried numerous prototypes using various combinations of resins, fibers, and weaves that could potentially serve the purpose.

Since the goal was to have these beds on an MRI machine which is sensitive to metals, we needed to ensure that the materials used had no trace metals in them. As a result, we needed to go the extra mile to develop something that was not only fit for purpose but also something everyone was happy with.

Yes, it was complex – and we were prepared for this from the start. What could be machined is machined, but the product is ultimately brought to life by hand at Advantage Engineering’s facilities.

We use an open face mold that is gel coated and sprayed with resin. We add fiberglass afterwards and vacuum bag the mold setting off a resin transfer which ultimately generates a part – well, one surface of the end product – a third of the medical bed.

The edges of the outer surfaces are ground, then some foam is added in the middle, and the product is finally glued together to make a bed – with a pull-cord embedded in for the user’s safety. Before adding in the foam, each pair of surfaces are nested together, the cracks are filled out and the radius is formed by hand. Truth be told, there’s a whole lot of craftsmanship involved in the production of this medical bed. It’s not just a process to be proud of, it’s a process to marvel at.

The MRI bed was first produced by us for the customer almost a decade ago – and we continue to produce them at our facilities. We typically have five people dedicated to the task, focused on key processes such as fiberglass layout and resin, handcrafted finessing, painting, and sealed processes, among other things.

Ultimately, what we produce, despite being artistic and crafted by hand in many ways, not only meets the customer’s requirements but also satisfies the stringent RoHS quality requirements. In a nutshell, that’s everything Advantage Engineering represents. From our ability to deliver on custom requirements to our experience and expertise with complex requirements, to our consultative approach to production.

The work we do speaks for itself. If you’ve got a design or manufacturing challenge, look for a company that can help – look for a shop that doesn’t ask you to simplify, look for one that makes product complexity your competitive advantage – like our long-time customers in the medical devices industry.