At Mazak, we’re proud to manufacture some of the best machine tools in the world at our North American Headquarters in Florence, Kentucky, from cost-effective turning machines to the most advanced HYBRID Multi-Tasking systems. A big part of this is our Fabrication Department, which leverages powerful laser processing equipment, an experienced team of welders and an automated powder-painting process to create the enclosures for all our machines.
When COVID-19 first showed up in the U.S., however, our fabricators soon found themselves faced with a new challenge thanks to a chance meeting in March between Mazak Corporation President Dan Janka and Oliver Lawal, who leads AquiSense Technologies, in nearby Erlanger, Kentucky. AquiSense produces UV-C LED light systems designed for chemical-free air, water and surface disinfection. With the critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the U.S., AquiSense was interested in manufacturing a new product to help medical professionals and other essential workers get the most out of their limited supply of N95 masks.
Unfortunately, AquiSense was having difficulty finding a manufacturer able to take on the challenge of rapidly producing prototypes for the accelerated testing schedule necessary to respond to a crisis. In an effort to be a good neighbor – and help address a growing problem in the healthcare industry – Mazak stepped in to help. AquiSense sent over its initial designs, and in less than 24 hours, we confirmed it could be done, and got to work.
In a production environment like Mazak’s, where every square inch is optimized for manufacturing machine tools and related technology, switching gears did present some challenges. The Fabrication Department, for example, works almost exclusively with the steel sheet metal used for Mazak machine enclosures. The AquiSense solution, on the other hand, was designed with a stainless steel exterior and a highly reflective aluminum interior that ensured nine UV-C LEDs could expose every side of a mask to disinfecting ultraviolet light.
In addition to establishing processes that could efficiently cut and bend these materials with our existing equipment, Mazak’s fabricators had to learn how to process these parts without marring the mirror surface finish. In addition, Mazak engineers optimized the design for optimal manufacturability at scale, such as finding more effective ways to keep all of the light within the device enclosure.
The new product, which AquiSense would later name the PearlSurface™, also required nine plastic components, but the company contracted to produce these with injection molding fell through. Instead, Mazak took on the task with our in-house 3D printers. In fact, to meet AquiSense’s aggressive deadline for 50 prototype units, many Mazak engineers brought the job home, using their own 3D printers to help the team reach their goal.
Just 12 days after receiving the initial design, Mazak completed the prototypes. Like many job shops with Mazak machine tools, we have the flexibility to handle big changes to production as well as the agility to adapt to new processes. It’s a story that demonstrates the Rock Solid expertise of the Mazak team – and the importance of local manufacturing when collaborating on solutions, particularly when tight turnaround times and emergency situations demand exceptional speed.