Manfucaturing with a Mission: Improving Quality of Lives
For more than 30 years, Rifton has been providing high-quality adaptive solutions for children and adults, including gait trainers, standers, special needs chairs, wheelchair desks, bath chairs, and more. With the firm belief that people with disabilities should be treated with dignity and respect, Rifton builds its equipment with the goal of improving their daily lives. With sites in NY and PA, Rifton employees live and work in a “communal” environment. Rifton is a sister company of Community Playthings, a leading manufacturer of furniture and toys for schools and childcare centers.
“In 1977, we were asked to build a special chair for a disabled child. And, that’s how Rifton was born,” says Richard Johnson, a sales representative with Rifton. “Today, we produce over 50 products that assist people with disabilities in five major areas – transfer, mobility, hygiene, standing, and sitting. These products are designed with the help of our customers, as well as therapists and other caregivers.”
Challenges: Increase the Speed of Product Development and Enhancement
Rifton sells its equipment to schools, medical dealers, residential care facilities, and rehabilitation centers. Facing increasingly intense competition, particularly from foreign markets, the company needed to ensure the quality, usefulness, and affordability of the products it designs and creates. In order to more rapidly respond to customer requests for new offerings and accessories, Rifton needed a way to accelerate engineering and production activities by bringing its part and mold design in-house.
“For example,” Johnson explains, “users of our Pacer Gait Trainer, a piece of equipment that teaches people how to walk, were finding it difficult to get larger children and adults out of their wheelchairs and into the device. Many caregivers were experiencing back injuries, something that plagues as much as 11 percent of those who care for disabled persons. They were asking for means of transferring patients in a less physically-strenuous way. And, because this product is one of our biggest sellers, it was important for us to address this customer feedback as quickly as possible.”
The process of developing new products is deliberate and involved. First, a design team will review customer input and create a proposed design. Next, a prototype will be hand-crafted – a process that is subject to significant “trial and error” iterations. The prototype is then field-tested, and additional feedback is gathered from clients. This may lead to further modifications to the prototype, and additional testing before the product finally goes into production.
“With plastic parts playing an increasingly important role in our product makeup, the ability to manufacture these parts in-house has become critical to our success,” says Pete Mathis, a mold maker for the company. “Our existing mold design software was no longer able to meet our evolving needs.”
In fact, the company found it necessary to frequently use Electrical Discharge Manufacturing (EDM), a tool it already had in-house, but which it tried to avoid using since it created extra work and created production delays.
Solution: Cimatron Streamlines Mold Design and Manufacturing
To help achieve greater flexibility and responsiveness in design and manufacturing, Rifton turned to Cimatron software. “The automated mold splitting capabilities offered by Cimatron MoldDesign are far superior to those we had with our previous software,” says Mathis.
“We also take advantage of the ability to create milling templates in CimatronE NC,” explains Mathis. “Using the templates allows us to make only minor changes during the machining of a new part, which greatly streamlines the process. Now, we can create a mold in just a day or two.”
According to Mathis, the Cimatron solutions are highly intuitive. This ease-of-use made it simple for users to understand and learn the tools, so they could get up and running quickly. “When support from Cimatron was needed, it was timely and helpful.”
Results: Faster Rollout of New and Improved Products
Delivering products that closely match customer requirements and doing it in a timely manner are keys to Rifton’s ability to maintain its industry leadership position. Using the Cimatron software is one of the ways in which Rifton continues to be responsive to the changing needs of people with disabilities and their caregivers. “Because Cimatron MoldDesign and NC are tightly integrated, designs can be seamlessly incorporated into the machining process. By working closely with the design team, we are able to construct molds that are predominantly milled and minimize the use of EDM, further accelerating mold production time and controlling costs,” says Mathis.
“In the case of the Pacer Gait Trainer, for example, we were able to rapidly bring to market a new product called the SoloLift,” adds Johnson. “It is a vest-style device which enables care givers to easily move their patients from a sitting to a standing position, then transfer them into the gait trainer, without any lifting whatsoever.”
“The tools and equipment we create play a large role in helping the therapists and caregivers, who are so committed to assisting children and young adults with disabilities, and in improving the quality of life for these patients,” concludes Mathis. “That’s why, as a company, we value craftsmanship. Cimatron allows us to streamline, automate, and enhance many of our core manufacturing activities, without compromising the quality we strive for.”