By Tim Heston, Senior Editor
Custom fabricators continually strive to be different in customers’ eyes, but it’s not easy. Just having a laser used to set shops
apart from the crowd. That’s not the case now.
Shops sometimes bring in more machine technology—a new laser, press brake, or robotic welder—
but if nearby competitors can drum up the funds
to make the investment in the same equipment,
nothing is legally stopping them from doing so.
Cadence Inc. has a different story, but in many
ways still faces the same challenges all other contract manufacturers do. The company launched
with a proprietary blade-grinding technology that
founder Martin Lightsey invented. Yet if Lightsey
pinned success solely on proprietary technology,
his company wouldn’t be the $100 million, 500-em-
ployee, six-location industrial and medical device
contract manufacturer it is today.
Breaking Into Medical
In 1985 the company, at the time named Specialty
Blades Inc., was a small blade grinding shop in
Staunton, Va. Lightsey had big plans to serve both
the industrial and medical device sectors, and helping the company grow would be a proprietary grinding technology he invented for sharpening precision
blades, from tiny razor blades to industrial knives
several feet long (see Figure 1).
Unlike conventional systems that required
lengthy setup times and hundreds and sometimes
thousands of setup pieces, Lightsey’s initial 9-axis
CNC machine had unique fixturing that snapped
the workpiece into a certain position, depending
on the blade geometry. This proprietary machine
shortened setup time to just several minutes, which
in turn opened the door to prototyping and low-vol-
Lightsey realized the machine’s potential, not
only for industrial applications, but also for the
medical device sector. It was just a matter of time
for that unique technology to help the company re-
ally take off—right? Of course, the story isn’t that
Walk into any grocery store and you’ll see pack-
aging that has some serious materials engineering
behind it. New heat-resistant plastics have allowed
people to come home from work, grab a meal from
the freezer, stick it in the microwave, and have dinner.
Cutting those plastics requires sharp knives. The
longer those knives stay sharp, the fewer times they
need to be changed out, and so the more efficient
a food processor can be. Here, Lightsey’s company
filled a need.
A robot cell at Cadence Inc. builds a subassembly that
will go into a medical device.
Technicians at Cadence’s Staunton, Va., plant work with the company’s proprietary blade grinding systems.
What makes a contract
For one company, it’s the entire business system,
not just its proprietary technology