Molding the future
A customer who thrives on innovation and environmentally friendly manufacturing, a market that never stands still, and a product line that excels at precision and speed: How GF Machining Solutions and Providence Texture grow into new markets together.
Matt Melonio, CEO and President of Providence Texture, a laser service company, set out to change the US manufacturing industry from Smithfield, RI (USA), 90 kilometers southwest of Boston. Providence Texture machines parts so intricate and precise, ranging from 1’700-kilogram items to details at micron level, that only a handful of companies worldwide can keep up. The 500-square meter facility is pristine. Its white interior reminds visitors of a futuristic lab – to a low humming, a robot loads and unloads parts for processing. “When customers come in, they always notice how clean our shop is,” says Melonio.
“The constant improvements benefit us both.”Matt Melonio, CEO of Providence Texture
Providence Texture in brief
- Laser service company, headquartered in Smithfield, Rhode Island (US).
- Products range from textured, marked, and engraved surgical instruments to orthopedic implants, molds for plastic housings that encase electronic testing equipment, molds for emergency vehicle lights and suitcases, caps and closure molds for beverages and medical supplies.
- Industries: medical, aerospace, electronics, packaging, defense, sports equipment, lighting, consumer products, jewelry, automotive, universities, and research institutions.
- Customers: Arthrex, Medtronic, Stryker, Zimmer Biomet, NASA, Whelen Engineering.
- Newly certified under the rigorous ISO 13485:2016 medical standard for its quality management system. It tells potential medical customers that the company follows the same standards they do in ensuring quality, traceability, and handling.
Overcoming barriers in design and efficiency
With Providence Texture, which was founded in 2016, Melonio wanted to explore new opportunities that were difficult to seize with traditional processes. Compared to chemical texturing methods, which require the use and disposal of non-environmental friendly chemicals, laser technology is safer for employees and not harmful for the environment. The digitalized production processes, together with automation, are accurate, efficient and can be freely designed. Melonio recalls how it all began in late 2015. During a business trip to Europe, he scheduled a training session with GF Machining Solutions in Geneva (Switzerland). He wanted to review the new laser technologies and applications, especially the AgieCharmilles Laser P 400 U, a dual-source machine with a 20-watt femtosecond laser and a 30-watt nanosecond flexible pulse. The hands-on experience left him excited: “After that week, I knew that femtosecond lasers would play a prominent role in manufacturing,” Melonio says.
Lindsay Lewis, Head of Sales at GF Machining Solutions Advanced Manufacturing North America, explains the company’s approach: “We work with customers to identify critical manufacturing opportunities within their organization that can most benefit from one or more of our Advanced Manufacturing solutions. From there, the relationship with our customers quickly turns into a close collaboration where everyone grows together in the ebb and flow of the technology and application changes.”
Breaking into the medical industry
Melonio’s business plan was to break into the medical and aerospace markets. The growth numbers were promising, and developing new and highly precise micromachining and laser texturing techniques could make his company stand out. In September 2016, the young company purchased three AgieCharmilles Laser P series: a Laser P 1200 U, a Laser P 1000 U, and the first dual-source laser in a North American job shop, the Laser P 400 U. The ultrashort pulses reduce heat absorption and compromise effects, like burr formation. Post-process is outdated. “There’s no need for sandblasting. It’s all integrated into the laser process,” explains Melonio. The Laser P 400 U’s nano source produces high-quality, near-polish finishes, and vibrant colors on metals, for instance, for unique anti-counterfeiting marks. The machine not only enables Melonio and his team of five employees to create the micro features his customers keep requesting, like micron-level dimples on aerodynamics test parts. Two laser sources also allow him to produce liquid silicone rubber molds or implants on one single machine.
Melonio chose GF Machining Solutions because of its product quality and versatility, but also because he knew he could count on a good collaboration. Even before the Laser P 400 U had been delivered, Providence Texture’s first medical customer had an urgent request. Melonio reached out, explained his situation, and GF Machining Solutions offered him full access to the demo center in Geneva. “I visited twice, each visit lasting a full week, and was able to fulfill the complete order,” recounts Melonio.
Dedicated service for a strong partnership
In the first eight months after the lasers were delivered, the company experienced some issues. “But the US laser technicians and apps teams from GF were here as often as needed and were virtually always available by phone,” says Melonio. He appreciates that GF Machining Solutions truly understands what is at stake for a new company whose lasers are their only revenue source. “It is about them standing behind their equipment and supporting the companies that build their business using that equipment,” says Melonio. This dedicated service and support strengthened the partnership between Providence Texture and GF Machining Solutions. “Our relationship with Matt is heavily weighed on trust,” confirms Lewis. “That trust has developed into adopting additional, new solutions, all while providing him with the tools he uses to make it a success.”
Part of that trust is GF Machining Solutions recommending Providence Texture to customers interested in femtosecond technology. “Sometimes, companies aren’t looking into buying the machine so much as having access to the process, and they become customers,” says Melonio. His company is already taking steps towards the future, with a keen interest in moving forward with a Microlution ML-5. The interest in the laser developed as Providence Texture encountered niche opportunities in industries like medical, defense, aerospace, and life science. In addition to broadened capabilities for 5-axis micro-hole drilling and cutting, Melonio also plans to market to OEMs, contract manufacturers, and mold builders who have the occasional need but lack the volume that warrants a laser purchase. “Advanced manufacturing is special. Every customer requires an evolving mindset, and Matt absolutely takes those necessary leaps from a business standpoint to grow and adapt and move with technology. We’re excited to see how he will grow from this technology,” Lewis says .
“GF Machining Solutions’ lasers are energy-efficient.”
Matt Melonio, CEO of Providence Texture
Matt Melonio grew up around the chemical texturing industry. In 1982, his family started Custom Etch in New Castle (PA). He joined in 1991, right out of high school. In 2010, Custom Etch decided on Laser technology from GF Machining Solutions for a project with PET bottles to decrease labor costs and increase production speed. It took a while to become comfortable with the new technology, but Melonio remembers GF Machining Solutions being by their side during the transition. A few years later, the idea to open a branch of Custom Etch in Rhode Island and establish a laser R&D center morphed into starting his own company: Providence Texture. Building on his texturing experience, Melonio wanted to evolve into a laser service company with various technologies and broad capabilities.
How competitive is the medical technology market?
Many medical technology manufacturers try to cover as many processes as possible. They tend to be our biggest competition, but also our customers. The challenge isn’t really with these other companies. It’s more with the education: educating prospective customers and the industry about new ways to approach manufacturing challenges in the medical field. One of the initial challenges was also the long developing life cycles for medtec products. It can take three to five years to get approval from the responsible US authority, a rude awakening. But once successful, you are rewarded with product life cycles from five to eight years.
What are the advantages of sustainable manufacturing?
Compared to older processes, we don’t require chemicals. The lasers’ environmental footprint is much smaller. GF Machining Solutions’ lasers are energy-efficient, with the operational cost in the range of a large home appliance. They do not consume shielding gasses or require any regular part replacement. Once the laser is placed and operational, that’s it.
How do you benefit from the open communication with GF Machining Solutions?
Changes in the user interface, for instance, benefit us. GF, on the other hand, gets an insight into what’s happening in the different markets. I want to see the constant improvements because it benefits us as it helps them.