The demand for quality products at low cost is often at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts. If quality suffers or costs skyrocket, the results can be devastating for a manufacturer. Therefore, it is critical that a company adjusts to changes in the market in order to satisfy its customers’ requirements. And FloMet does just that.
A custom manufacturing company, FloMet “provides unique solutions to customer needs” utilizing Metal Injection Technology (MIT) to produce and provide “precision miniature components.” FloMet produces “complex net-shaped parts in a variety of metals and alloys, at lower costs than traditional wrought metal and cast parts,” says Dan Tasseff, Director of Sales & Marketing. “Applications range from needles to hearing aids, implantables, devices for suturing, orthodontic, laparoscopic, endoscopic procedures, optical boxes and industrial components.”
FloMet is one of the pioneers in metal injection molding (MIM) technology and has over 15 years of experience. So how did FloMet become a world leader in this industry? By developing and refining technology and providing quality products to its customers.
Metal injection technology began in the late 1970s when a group of engineers combined powdered metals, sintering technology, and plastic injection to produce a revolutionary new process. “This innovative and new technology was purchased by another group, who spent the next 10 years refining it into a reliable manufacturing process,” says Tasseff. “And in 1991, the technology and rights were sold, and FloMet was founded as a standalone manufacturer.” Company engineers worked to advance this technology. FloMet’s unique MIM process, called metal injection technology or MIT, has propelled FloMet to the top of its industry.
ALL UNDER ONE ROOF
A 40,000 square-foot facility in DeLand, Fla. houses FloMet’s operations – engineering, mixing, molding, debinding, sintering, secondary operations, and quality assurance. FloMet has grown significantly in the past three years from “eight to 19 mold machines, which run on two shifts, five days a week,” says Tasseff. In addition, FloMet maintains all of its molding machines and produces tools for the production floor in its in-house tool shop. FloMet also “provides secondary operations, when needed (i.e. coining, grinding, sandblasting, harperizing, and passivation).”
FloMet assures its customers high quality products by controlling all aspects of production from concept to manufacturing. FloMet prides itself on obtaining and maintaining ISO-9001:2000 certification. In addition, FloMet enables its customers to speed part design via electronic transfer of the component design databases from the customer to FloMet using a variety of software formats. FloMet also works directly with designers who require “nonstandard material properties for specific component requirements.” By involving itself in all aspects of manufacturing, FloMet provides results to its customers without delays from outside sources.
“We differ from traditional MIM in that older technology uses furnaces that look like long tunnels,” says Tasseff. “Parts are put into containers and pushed or pulled through the furnace. Each end of the furnace is open to the atmosphere, which lets air in and exposes parts to oxides. This process can cause finished parts to rust. In contrast, MIT furnaces built by FloMet use an outer sleeve, shaped like a large soda can, over an inner sleeve, in which molded parts fit. An O-ring seals parts off from the atmosphere.”
FloMet’s remarkable sintering process has also enabled the company to surpass its competition. “Sintering is the process where parts are heated to 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, and the binder is removed,” says Tasseff. “The part shrinks 20 percent and is diffused into a solid state high density component that is the equivalent of wrought material. Components are only exposed to hydrogen and argon in the sintering furnace, which results in very low-carbon parts (>.002 percent).” This unique sintering process yields materials that exhibit superior corrosion resistance.
FloMet also prides itself on producing complex components that many other MIM companies are unable to produce. “We have the ability to do complex multi-cavity tooling that is not even considered by others,” says Tasseff. “We also formulate our mixtures of metal powders, wax, and plastic binders.” This capability enables FloMet to tailor the molding feedstock to the dimensional requirements of the component without expensive tooling modifications.
FloMet is able to produce complex non-corrosive components in a variety of dimensions and sizes to meet the needs of many industries such as medical/surgical, aerospace/defense, dental/orthodontic, health/hearing, telecommunications, and electrical. FloMet’s ability to grow with these industries has enabled it to become “the best in the business,” says Taseff.
QUALITY DRIVES THE PROCESS
FloMet is a custom manufacturer and has qualified every tool it has sold since its inception in 1991 – an accomplishment FloMet believes is unequaled by any other MIM component manufacturer. “The tools and/or cavities in the tools or frames belong to the customer,” says Dorrie Sawyer, Marketing Manager. “In order to assure the parts meet customer specs and tolerances, each tool is put through a number of test runs, where the parts undergo a ‘1st Article Inspection.’ Once these components pass our and our customers’ inspections, we know the tool will produce the quality components FloMet has built its strong reputation on.”
FloMet has taken an “aggressive position and initiated a plan to develop, implement, and measure multiple continuous improvement programs throughout the facility,” says Tasseff. “These programs include Six Sigma, 5S, Kaizan, and Lean Manufacturing.” Projects within these programs are in different stages of development and focus on scrap reduction, cost and margin improvements, improved organization, workflow, etc.
Driving FloMet’s manufacturing process from supplies to finished goods is its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. “The entire system is automated down to the shop floor management which is done through bar coding,” says Tasseff. “Everything is done in real time and audited for accuracy.”
As a result of its efforts, FloMet recently won an award with the Volusia Manufacturer’s Association for “Best Practices for Hybrid Process Management.”
HUGE MARKET SHARES
Aggressively pursuing new business has enabled FloMet to gain an industry-leading market share in the medical and dental component industries. “FloMet has experienced substantial growth in the last three years, averaging about 35 percent per year,” says Tasseff. “The growth is due to emphasis on sales and marketing of our state-of-the-art capabilities and FloMet’s ability to meet the expectations of its demanding customer base.”
Research and development also play a huge role in FloMet’s ability to “maintain its edge and leadership in the business.” FloMet works closely with its customers to develop processes, materials, and designs that meet their needs and help them gain a competitive edge in their respective markets.
Responding to market demand is often tough, but FloMet achieves this goal consistently. “Because FloMet develops its own feedstock, we have been able to respond to market demands for components manufactured with different materials that produce different characteristics with regard to heat, cold, hardness, etc.,” says Sawyer. “And because of cost savings, parts that were once manufactured in plastic or by other methods outside of injection molding can be efficiently and effectively made with MIT.”
In the rapidly changing world of technology and manufacturing, FloMet’s focus on quality custom products enables it to meet its customers’ demands on a continual basis, and proves FloMet is top in its field.