MRT Castings

When speed saves lives

In March, just when the coronavirus pandemic had begun to hit Europe hard, MRT Castings was faced with an urgent demand for more parts to produce critical care ventilators. Only an additional die-casting cell could drastically increase production and MRT couldn’t wait months for the machine to be built and shipped. Together with Bühler, the team managed to get a new cell up and running in just five weeks.



In the early stages  of the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals were desperate for equipment – not only personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks and gowns needed to protect medical staff, but also high-quality medical ventilators for patients. These are needed to ventilate Covid-19 patients when their lungs cannot get enough oxygen into their blood. Expecting rising numbers of severe cases, hospitals all over the world were gearing up for more critical care beds. With this race against time, well-known companies such as Ford, GM, Toyota, and Tesla pledged their support by converting a portion of their sites to manufacture such devices. However, ventilators are complex units that, as medical devices, are produced under a tight regulatory regime, as the units must work reliably. Building a complete supply chain and getting the official approvals takes time. Time the hospitals and the patients didn’t have.

A bit of luck and trust

It takes about four months to produce a die-casting machine of the required size – too long to make quick difference in this challenging market. “There was an audible sigh on the other end when I told the customer about this manufacturing timeline on the phone,” Rawnson recalls. But Jeremy Mitchell wasn’t ready to give up and promised MRT that he would look for an alternative solution. After a few calls, it became clear that Bühler had a suitable machine, an Ecoline 53, in stock in Switzerland that could be delivered quickly. “For emergencies, such as fire damage or complete breakdown of a machine, we find quick solutions, and we sometimes have a small stock of machines available,” says Mitchell. 

The availability of the machine with the perfect specifications was sheer luck: there are numerous different applications for die-cast parts, and MRT produces parts for medical devices as well as the aerospace and automotive industry. Depending on the size and the complexity of the parts, a different machine is needed. Also, the tooling – the custom-built form into which the molten metal is shot – had to fit the machine.

Mitchell knew exactly what was required and the machine in Switzerland fitted the bill. “It takes a good and long-lasting customer relationship to be able to judge our requirements so quickly,” explains Rawnson. MRT and Bühler have been working together for 20 years.

MRT Casting Phil Rawson, Managing Director at MRT Castings, and Jeremy Mitchell, Sales Manager at Bühler, in front of the new die-casting cell.
Even when the pandemic passes, hospitals will be expected to ensure that they have enough capacity to meet intensive care ventilator needs.

Phil Rawson, Managing Director at MRT Castings

1,000 different components

Components for the medical industry must meet high standards and strict approval processes. Not only do the parts have to be very precise and repeatable, but cosmetic aspects are also important. Unlike a motor block hidden in a car, for example, a lot of the parts for medical devices are visible in the finished product and therefore need to have a perfect surface finish. The critical care ventilators into which MRT’s parts are incorporated, are complex high-tech units: the ventilator is housed in a robust trolley to be located at the patient’s bedside, complete with a touchscreen monitor. Some models even come with their own compressor and independent power supplies, to enable them to operate while patients are being moved around the hospital. Such a unit consists of over 1,000 different components, supplied from 14 different countries, which makes for a very complex supply chain. 

And changing one supplier in the chain means going through approval processes again. MRT’s customer was therefore relying on them to come up with a solution for these essential die-cast parts. When MRT realized that Bühler could provide the right machine for the job in such a short time frame, their decision to invest was easy. It took just five days to discuss and sign the contract. “Even when the pandemic passes, hospitals will be expected to ensure that they have enough capacity to meet intensive care ventilator needs. We therefore expect the elevated demand for these castings to continue for at least 18 months, and thereafter, the Ecoline 53 is a versatile machine which provides additional capacity for us in all market sectors. This made it worthwhile for us to invest in the capacity increase,” Rawnson explains.

United by purpose

Man with die-cast part

One week after the order, the Ecoline 53 had traveled over 1,000 kilometers by truck from Switzerland to England and arrived at its destination in Andover. “Our customer could hardly believe that things were moving so fast, so I sent them pictures to prove it,” says Rawnson, laughing. The Ecoline was placed in MRT’s new production hall where Bühler service engineers started assembling the machine immediately. “We worked in pairs on the machine, one on each side, so that we could maintain the required Covid-19 safety distance at all times,” Mitchell explains.

Accommodation was also a challenge. At the beginning of April, all hotels around Andover were closed due to the coronavirus lockdown. So every evening, after a long work day, the service engineers drove two hours home in separate cars. “Everybody went the extra mile and worked a lot,” Rawnson recalls. “But the urgency of the matter brought the MRT team and the suppliers together. We knew why we were doing this. We were united by purpose.”

500% more parts

It really was a team effort. While the new die-casting cell was being assembled, MRT took delivery of four new CNC machines from a different supplier. This ensured that the additional parts manufactured on the new Ecoline could get the finishing touches needed for medical applications. MRT switched to a 24-hour shift operation and recruited 20 additional employees from nearby companies where the workload had dropped due to lockdown.

Only five weeks after the initial request, MRT was able to claim they had achieved the impossible – they had increased capacity by 500%. “Since April 22, we have been producing at full speed on the new machines,” Rawnson proudly states. Five hundred sets of the 19 parts needed for a critical care ventilator now leave the factory every week. MRT’s customer was impressed. “Because we responded quickly, we could give them continuity in their production and accelerate the process by months,” says Rawnson. “The exceptional collaboration with Bühler made this possible, so our supplier helped us to be a better supplier.”

Although the installation was short-notice, the investment will be long-term for MRT. “The new machine not only guarantees the reliability and continuity we are looking for, but also makes us future-ready,” Rawnson says. The Ecoline is IoT capable, with all the peripherals connected, including extractor robots, die spray, robotic ladler, and temperature-control units.

Only one week after the order, the Ecoline arrives at MRT in England and is installed in the new hall.

 

In addition to helping save lives during the pandemic, the urgent investment marks the first building block of the future production in MRT’s new hall. “The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated our move into the new die-casting hall, and our investment in world-class new die-casting technology,” Rawnson explains. “We’re excited about the opportunities which this technology, and our partnership with Bühler, can bring for our continued growth.”

 

 

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