Problem solving, a longtime strength of U.S. engineering and manufacturing companies, is pivotal in helping them beat cost challenges and develop innovative new technologies.

By Mark Shortt

David Gaines contributed reporting to this article.

View of clip applier tip assembly and titanium clips. Photo courtesy of Connecticut Spring and Stamping.

There’s no getting around the reality that the lower labor costs of overseas manufacturers have challenged U.S. manufacturers to dig deep for ways to stay competitive. Perhaps not as well known is that many American manufacturers are thriving by drawing on core strengths that have not only typified U.S. manufacturing for many years, but could very well play an even bigger role as methods for countering offshore pricing challenges in the future. Virtually synonymous with the American brand, these core strengths include design, engineering, and problem-solving expertise; the ability to communicate easily with customers, understand their changing needs and requirements, and deliver on-time products and services that meet or exceed their expectations; high-level quality; and innovation.

How important are these strengths? In addition to their intangible value, they all have the potential to impact the bottom line in a big way. Take quality, for instance. Repeatable, highest-quality parts can all but eliminate rejections, keeping per-piece costs to a minimum and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a project. But the value of a highest-quality product is measured not just in the money it saves, but in the revenues it generates in the marketplace.

Probably the most noticeable core strength of U.S. design, engineering, and manufacturing is innovation. From the first spark of a product design concept to a process adaptation that solves a manufacturing problem, innovation takes many forms. But whether the goal is a product that makes healthcare more affordable, or a technology that helps restore a sense of normalcy to the lives of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the impact of an innovation rises with its success in satisfying needs that were previously unmet. And, like excellent quality, a truly innovative product has the potential to not only save costs, but also to turbo charge a company’s revenues.

Stamping Company Coins Cost-Effective Solutions for Critical Medical Components

By eliminating the quality issues that its customer had been experiencing with a previous supplier’s work, Connecticut Spring and Stamping reportedly reduced the customer’s per-part cost by approximately 50 percent, ultimately saving “hundreds of thousands of dollars” over the course of the year. The customer had been experiencing significant problems with the production of a stamped jaw for an endoscopic clip applier, a medical instrument that applies titanium clips to blood vessels to close them off during endoscopic surgery. The client’s supplier was stamping the jaw and then machining a groove into the stamped part, but its machining operation was unable to hold the required tolerances. The client also wasn’t able to achieve the level of surface finish required for medical parts that are inserted into a body cavity.

“They were experiencing a 25% part rejection rate on incoming inspections, and about 12% rejection of the completed surgical instruments,” said Steve Dicke, vice president of sales and marketing at CSS ( “After initial discussions, we felt as though we could take the application and, rather than machining a groove, which is where the staples are driven from, we could actually coin the groove into the jaw. We felt it would give them a higher-quality part with tighter dimensions than they were currently getting, which would give them 100% quality for incoming inspections.”

Produced from 420 stainless steel as a single-piece component, the stamped jaw is one of the most critical components within the clip applier, and therefore must be held to very tight tolerance requirements. Connecticut Spring and Stamping accomplished this through a combination of direct engineering involvement and design recommendations. “Together, we developed a different configuration for the component that was only capable of being produced with stamping,” said Mark Labbe, a manufacturing engineer at CSS. “We worked with them very closely, and they changed the part several times. As they added new features, we had to re-engineer it because all of the parameters changed. They had to dimensionally change the part to make it function correctly, and we had to configure it to whatever they needed.”

Although its customer designed the jaw, CSS assisted with part design and handled the tooling design—ultimately developing sophisticated tooling to coin the part multiple times in a programmed fixture. The tooling produced a coined jaw capable of holding stack up tolerances less than 0.001 inch.

Connecticut Spring and Stamping’s use of a coining process also enabled its customer to design into the part an enhancement that wasn’t possible with the machining process—an enclosed end that achieves better clip closure. “They couldn’t machine it in that fashion because the machining had to add the groove in from the end,” Labbe explained. “So there was an opening on the end of the part. By coining it, we could actually close up the end so that the part had a better feature. Coining is a stamping process where you cause material to flow into a shape under high pressure, similar to forging, but it’s a cold process. We started with a stamped part, but the coining allowed us to do all of the critical features in one operation.”

Although changing to another manufacturing process was key, the resulting design improvement was expedited by CSS’s close interaction with its customer. “I think the product design improvement came about through a collaboration with the customer, and the fact that they didn’t realize how tight we could hold the tolerances, and that we could fold up the end as consistently as we did,” Dicke maintained. “They recognized the improvement to their design and made the modifications based upon the collaboration. They would have been happy without the product design improvements, so it came as an additional benefit.”

By the time they were through, CSS had helped its customer go from a 25% part rejection rate to zero rejections, while significantly reducing the cost of the parts by using a stamping process. “The tooling cost is not necessarily less, but the per-piece cost goes down significantly when you go from a machined part to a stamped part,” said Dicke. “Processing time is much slower when you’re machining it, so the stamping process saved them time and money in the long run.”

“We saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars with the parts we made for them in one year, if you consider the cost of the part times the volume of the parts,” Dicke added proudly. “Each finished instrument costs several hundred dollars, so it was very expensive to dispose of the other supplier’s rejected instruments.”