The Case of the Rusty Temperature Sensor
Several years back, I was contacted by one of our customers that needed a temperature sensor for a deionized (DI) water tank. Although we have helped this customer engineer several different sensors over the years, RESCO had not been involved in this design. Our customer is a Fortune 50 medical equipment manufacturer in the in vitro diagnostics market and this sensor is part of one of their blood analyzers.
After about a year of supplying the assembly with no apparent problems, I was contacted by a manufacturing engineer at the customer to discuss a major issue that had occurred. Apparently rust was appearing in the water and they were able to trace it back to the sensor assembly. The manufacturer of the sensor assembly suggested changing to a different version of sensor but when we tried the result was still the same. After extensive testing by our customer, they determined that the UV light being used in the tank was causing a breakdown in the integrity of plating on the sensor and causing it to rust. Unfortunately, the original sensor manufacturer was unable or unwilling to offer any suggestions to address the issue.
Since the late 1970’s, RESCO has been partners with a leading thermistor and temperature sensing company. Together we had supported multiple customers, including this one, in both the medical and aerospace sectors. Working with the engineering teams across our two organizations we were able to come up with a solution.
First, the team engineered a tubular housing for the sensor that has sufficient thermal properties to get the precise readings that were required while being able to withstand the environment caused by the UV light. Our customer required that the housing on the new sensor use the same coating as used on the original sensor to avoid costly chemistry re-validation testing. For added reliability, a second thermistor was added to the probe at a very small incremental cost.
The Secondary Problem
Together with our customer and partner, we had resolved the engineering issue. The next problem was that the proposed solution was going to add significant cost to our customer’s instrument at a time when every dollar was being scrutinized. Unfortunately, we could find no shortcuts or modifications to the design that would meet both the original cost and the system requirements.
However, we did find a solution, not by reducing the cost of the sensor but by increasing it! Yes, I know this sounds crazy, but what we did was look at the manufacturing process to install the sensor assembly in the DI water tank. We found that our customer was going through a series of time-consuming modifications to the tank to install the original sensor. To reduce these installation costs, we worked with our partner to modify the design of the sensor assembly to simplify its installation. The redesign was a success and now installation is much simpler and less costly. The manufacturing cost savings were far greater than the additional cost of the new sensor assembly, making the solution a significant win for our customer.
This was an interesting and unique challenge for our team. Finding a solution that met both the technical requirements and didn’t raise the overall cost of our customer’s instrument took a collaborative effort. By leveraging our partnership with our partner we were able to solve this issue. That said, an even greater value comes from using these partnerships early in the design cycle so that pitfalls can be reduced and redesign costs avoided.
This same customer has recently launched a new platform that is using temperature sensing solutions from RESCO and our partner. During the engineering prototype testing, there were some engineering challenges that came to light due to the environment the sensor is located in. By leveraging the partnership among the customer, RESCO and our supplier, we were able to resolve these issues during design. As a result, we kept these issues from ever making it to market and avoided costs associated with instrument downtime and field replacements.
A Vision System that Found Big Savings
RESCO helped this Clinical Chemistry Systems Manufacturer identify a unique vision system solution for its next generation of blood analyzers.
A leading manufacturer of clinical chemistry analysis systems was designing the next generation blood analyzer. Blood analyzers of this type are high volume systems used primarily by large hospitals and commercial laboratories. Due to the significant capital expenditure these blood analyzers represent, selling features include breadth and accuracy of tests performed, high throughput, low downtime, and minimal lab technician involvement. In other words, these systems need to accurately perform a wide variety of tests at as low a cost per test as possible.
To enhance throughput and minimize technician expense, the previous generation system was equipped with an array of scanners and sensors to accurately identify the samples being tested and monitor the tests being performed. Although effective, these scanners and sensors were expensive and created multiple points for potential system failure. Our customer’s challenge was to develop a next gen system that increased throughput while decreasing system cost and downtime.
Working side-by-side with our customer, RESCO was instrumental in identifying a unique solution that replaced the traditional bar code scanners used in the previous system with a state-of-the-art vision system. This new system can not only read the bar codes on each blood sample test tube input into the system but can also identify the type of tube being used, where it is located in a multi-position carrier, if the tube is properly seated in the carrier, whether the tube has a cap, and, if a cap is present, the type of cap.
Not only did the RESCO solution work and work well, but it cost hundreds of dollars less per system than the next best option. Now in full production, this next gen system has been extremely well received by the market and our customer is projecting sales of thousands of systems over the next decade. If these sales projections hold, the savings to our customer from the vision system solution should reach into the millions of dollars during the production life of the system.”
A Solution that Shows Innovation Is in Our Blood
For one medical equipment manufacturer, RESCO leveraged a combination of our barcode expertise, assembly capabilities and existing supplier relationships to save them time, money and headaches.
Our customer needed upgrade kits for hospitals and labs that had older models of a clinical blood analyzer. The upgrade would increase the efficiency at which the old analyzers could process blood samples by adding technology that was being designed into newer instruments.
The customer’s original plan was to develop two kits each containing more than 20 different components, each customized to a specific instrument. The kits would have common components including a barcode scanner, USB drive, and activation disc, in-box instructions for activation as well as electronic and mechanical components, sourced from multiple manufacturers, specific to each instrument. RESCO was originally asked to select, customize and supply the scanner with a custom bracket and memory stick directly to the customer. The customer was going to then assemble the kits using components supplied by RESCO and twelve other vendors and then ship it to the field.
Working with the customer’s project team, RESCO developed a solution that used a combination of our barcode expertise, assembly capabilities and strong supplier relationships.
We showed them how the kits could be delivered in ready-to-ship boxes. RESCO purchases the components, manages the assembly, and delivers the finished kits to the customer whenever they need them. The beauty of the solution is that it requires no assembly time on our customers’ part. We streamlined their ordering process, cut down on required lead time, and, because we simplified what was originally going to be a complex kitting process into one deliverable, freed-up the customer’s in-house resources so they could focus on their core competencies.
Just-in-Time to Take Millions out of Inventory
When a Major Medical Equipment Manufacturer needed a reliable partner to support their KANBAN supply chain effort, RESCO was the choice.
In a bid to free up millions of dollars tied up in its inventory, a major medical technology company implemented a KANBAN just-in-time inventory system. But for the system to be a success, this medical equipment manufacturer needed dependable suppliers that would ensure the component parts and sub-assemblies that had been kept in inventory would arrive on the assembly line just when needed. For a supplier to meet this challenge, they have to have the systems in place to accurately control product quality and delivery and the financial strength to shoulder a significant inventory burden.
RESCO was one of a handful of suppliers able to meet this challenge. Specifically, we had to devise a system where we would receive orders each Wednesday for delivery to our customer’s production facility within one week. Late delivery was not an option and, since the product was to bypass our customer’s incoming inspection, world class quality was essential.
Though we needed to change our system to accommodate the customer’s original KANBAN concepts, RESCO’s experience in supply chain management made it possible to customize our process to meet the customer’s needs. Among the challenges to overcome is to convert component supplier lead times of up to 16 weeks into RESCO manufactured sub-assemblies with a lead-time to our customer of no more than five business days.
The result is that our customer’s KANBAN initiative has become a success in part because RESCO effectively manages and delivers over 100 items included in the program. In the process, RESCO has become an integral part of this medical equipment manufacturer’s supply chain.
Building the Next Generation of PLC Cable for a Large Integrated Steel Mill
With no drawings to work from, RESCO reverse-engineered an old PLC cable to develop a new prototype that was more cost-effective and reliable. But RESCO’s customer also got something more in the bargain--- a set of reliable specifications they could use going forward.
Our customer, one of the world’s largest integrated steel producers, needed a uniquely configured cable assembly that connects a master Programmable Logic Controller to a large mill ladle that holds tons of molten steel. The PLC controls the movement of the ladle from the furnace to the pour station. Since the cable is used in the harsh environment of the mill, cables wear out quickly and must be replaced frequently. The customer was building the cables in-house at considerable expense. Complicating the task was the complexity of the cable assembly and the lack of any written specifications.
Our customer knew that we were capable of building this type of assembly but did not realize the time and expense that could be saved by using RESCO. Since no formal specification or drawings had ever been produced, we had to reverse-engineer an old cable. Though the reverse engineering process was difficult and tedious, it gave us the unforeseen opportunity to improve the design and create the written specifications so critically needed.
Using wiring diagrams, old parts orders, and in-depth interviews with the maintenance and engineering staff, we built a new, improved prototype. The new cables have a longer life, less downtime, and are delivered at a lower total cost than the originals. Making the program even more appealing to our customer, RESCO stocks the component parts for rapid builds of replacement cables so the mill is no longer burdened with the cost of maintaining an inventory of replacement parts and cables.
Providing Field Service a Tool to be More Productive
Starting with only a few rough sketches, RESCO provided a liquid level indicator that produced an almost immediate return on this customer’s investment.
A major clinical diagnostic company wanted its field service technicians to be able to measure a critical liquid level in an instrument quickly and accurately. Unfortunately, the instrument in question was designed so that the only access to the level indicator was by partially disassembling the unit. Since this measurement was an important part of field service testing, the company needed a solution that completed the test but without the time and cost of disassembly.
All agreed that the best solution was some type of tester that could be plugged in.
Taking Inventory (and Getting It under Control)
When increasing supplier lead-times and a need to reduce investment in inventory occurred at the same time, this defense contractor had a real challenge; a challenge that RESCO helped them overcome.
A defense contractor that develops microwave sub-systems for military equipment was experiencing long lead-times and production shutdowns due to late deliveries on a handful of items. At the same time, and in part due to these lead-times, they found themselves sitting on more and more inventory.
To overcome these twin challenges, the contractor began searching for a supplier that could more effectively manage the inventory and delivery schedules of these items. The problem was that the existing suppliers balked at speeding deliveries or holding additional inventory under the existing pricing structure. At the same time, most of the new suppliers the contractor approached were not willing to accommodate the tighter delivery schedules.
But RESCO thought that this was a problem that had a solution.
To get at that solution, we began by clearly defining the problem through a series of meetings with the contractor’s purchasing, production, and accounting departments. Using sales forecasts, factory lead-times, and safety stock provisions, RESCO developed a program to track the exact replenishment points required for each item. We also worked with existing suppliers to reduce lead-times and in some cases found new suppliers altogether. The results were encouraging. With better control on stock levels and some modest improvements on lead-times, production shutdowns were virtually eliminated and inventory levels reduced. In addition, RESCO’s new customer incurred no net increase in item costs.
What began as a contract to manage a few items has now grown to where RESCO is responsible for more than 30 different products for this defense contractor and has come to be considered one of its key suppliers.to the instrument and automatically read the liquid level.
Working with the customer’s engineering department, RESCO was provided with only hand drawings and rough schematics. Developing a solution was made even more difficult by the fact that the instrument could not be modified. So the solution had to interface and communicate with the existing hardware and software.
Our team went to work and produced a prototype tester, complete with the documentation and specification sheet the customer requested.
After the new tester was approved and released, RESCO has gone on to produce and ship more than 500 units to date. Best of all, because the cost of a service call has been reduced dramatically, our customer’s cost of designing and manufacturing the new tester has become almost irrelevant. For all intents and purposes, the ROI on the project was almost immediate.