Arthur G Russell - Safety in numbers

The president of Arthur G Russell, Mark Burzynski, speaks to Medical Device Developments about the virtues of high-durability equipment vs those of low-cost equipment, along with the importance of a trusting relationship with customers when it comes to manufacturing medical device systems.

Please tell us about Arthur G Russell and its involvement in the medical device sector.

Mark Burzynski: The Arthur G Russell Co was founded in 1945 as an engineering company building equipment and providing automated solutions. We were established by a group of brilliant engineers and have continued that tradition by providing engineering expertise within the manufacturing sector. Our involvement in the medical device industry started with the development of the disposable syringe in the 1960s, when we were based close to our largest customer's first high-volume syringe plant. Since then, we have supplied thousands of high-quality pieces of equipment and systems as this industry has developed. The company has been producing automatic assembly solutions for the disposable medical device sector since its infancy.

What sort of automation systems and equipment do you build for this sector?

We produce custom automated equipment in a variety of styles, and select the most appropriate technology for the application based on a number of factors including throughput requirements, the processes involved, and component presentation. Our biggest niche is high-volume disposables - specifically sharps, blood collection tubes and infusion devices. For the sharps market, we have built systems that produce up to 1,800 needles per minute.

Could you describe your typical involvement in a project and what kind of expertise you can offer?

Very often, we are brought in as a new device is being developed, and are asked for input into the feeding of the components or manufacturability of the device. We like to be involved at this stage because it gives us some influence on the product design. Frequently, we will do process development or proof-of-principle tooling in order to develop a technique or process that best suits the application. This often leads to producing development-phase machinery using production-intent tooling before we enter the high-volume production equipment phase. Due to our loyal customer base, we also do a fair amount of duplicate machinery.

Could you explain your automation strategies?

Our strategy is to take a clean-sheet-of-paper approach to every project and choose the most suitable automation platform or platforms for it. We don't have a standard platform or technology that we propose to the customer, nor do we try to force-fit applications to it. As a result, we are able to devise a unique solution for the customer.

What differentiates you from other companies offering similar services?

Our experience base does. We have very knowledgeable personnel, including our CEO, myself and other employees who have come from the medical device-manufacturing industry. We have shop-floor experience and really understand the environment that our equipment will be operating in. Because of this insight, our systems are the most reliable in the industry.

We also produce our own engineered high-performance feeding systems, which gives us an advantage in high-throughput applications.

Building custom automated equipment can be a risky business for the customer and the supplier alike. How important is trust in that relationship?

We try to work with customers that we trust and want to develop long-term relationships with. Ultimately, the lowest-total-cost solution is not necessarily the lowest-priced piece of equipment. The equipment has to perform reliably long-term; the most expensive piece of automation is one that isn't running. We are not at the low end of the cost spectrum and our customers need to understand the value of a well-engineered, robust piece of equipment. The customers we have keep coming back, although we do enjoy working with developing companies and helping them bring their products to market.

What market trends are you noticing at present?

There's a lot going on in China, which is probably the biggest trend. Also, some of our customers are onshoring for quality reasons. An automated process is inherently more consistent than a manual one, and the cost of running a fully automated line is not significantly different in the US than in other countries.

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