Thermo Electron Corporation

Case Study

Thermo Electron Corporation

APPLICATION: Accomodation of Small Lot Sizes While Reducing Downtime

BACKGROUND: The Sample Preparation Division of Thermo Electron Corporation manufactures products to support medical sample preparation and analysis for laboratories and medical institutions. From pipettes and vacuum chambers to incubators and centrifuges, the Thermo Sample Preparation Division is focused on ensuring the quality of research while enabling ease of sample manipulation.


This Thermo Division’s in-house machine shop often receives emergency orders for out-of-stock parts, causing production runs to be interrupted or halfcompleted. Thermo needed the capability to accommodate small lot sizes more effectively, with a specific emphasis on reductions in downtime. The situation was complicated by an array of machining centers with different horizontal or vertical machining capabilities, including a Haas VF-3, Hatachi Seiki HC- 500, and a Haas VF-0 (all with rotary indexers) as well as a Daewoo DMH-400.


  • Set-up times took as long as 4-5 hours per machining center
  • 5-6 operations required to process small lot sizes
  • Lost productivity, high costs associated with operator-required emergency runs

Thermo needed to find an approach that enabled interchangeability among machines, reduced set-up times and enabled versatility for small jobs. “Halfcompleted jobs with idles parts lying around simply wasn’t working,” said Wayne Wentworth, Machine Shop Manager. “We needed a more efficient way to meet customer demand.”

Thermo implemented the Ball Lock Mounting System on all four machines, designing fixtures around interchangeability to provide for additional capacity and compensate for any single machine downtime. One key element was the Haas VF-3 with a five-axis rotary indexer. With the addition of the Ball Lock system, dramatic improvements were achieved in setup times from the base table to complete preparation for a production run:


  • Changeover times reduced to less than 5 minutes (previously requiring 4-5 hours to mount, index, trim and get the job going)
  • Smaller lot sizes accommodated with 1 – 2 operations (as compared to the previous 5 – 6)


Thermo's Ball Lock System
ABOVE: Thermo's Ball Lock System
No more half done jobs. The versatility and measurable savings the Ball Lock system provides is amazing.

— Thermo Machine Shop Manager, Wayne Wentworth




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Wayne Wentworth, Machine Shop Manager, joined the Thermo Sample Preparation Division in December 1996, confronted with the challenges of high in-process inventory, excessive unfinished parts and machines in a constant state of changeover. The Ball Lock System has been implemented on Thermo machines over the last eight years to reduce set up times and enable higher levels of customer service, even for small jobs.


Without getting into specific numbers, Thermo has saved millions of dollars in manufacturing efficiencies.

— Thermo Machine Shop Manager, Wayne Wentworth


Jergens Workholding- Ball Lock System

Jergens Workholding- Ball Lock System
ABOVE: Ball Lock locating pin cutaway