Gregg Ekberg, President & Founder
Innovation has always been vital to manufacturing. Every year, numerous novel concepts pinned on the drawing board take wings to shape the manufacturing spectrum of tomorrow. “Although most organizations have the concept and framework to build or assemble a new product, oftentimes a view through a different lens coupled with innovative manufacturing processes and methods can bring forth improved quality or throughput,” says Gregg Ekberg, president and founder of Highline Controls. With an innate ability to find simple solutions for complicated problems, Highline Controls lends a helping hand to scores of companies by developing innovative engineering designs.
Highline Controls’ journey traces back to 1996 when they worked with tier one suppliers in the automotive industry on process improvements and automation. With a foundation deeply rooted in the ethos of the automotive industry, the turn of the century saw them foraying into the medical device, pharmaceutical, and biotech space. Today, Highline Controls, as a true partner, guides their clients in the medical devices arena right from the product development phase to finding the right manufacturing process or vendors to bring their vision to fruition.
Ekberg points out how most medical devices are developed by researchers or developers who may not have the experience to understand the impact of design on manufacturing. The Highline team will work with the customer to first design and build the fundamental manufacturing station that verifies the assembly. This initial station is designed with the intent that it can be incorporated into a fully automated system using the same fundamental functions and tests. This approach helps ensure minimal risk and verification during scale up. This will also enable the product development team to analyze the capabilities of various components against the product specifications. “The whole process can throw light on making simple changes to the design and manufacturing process to build a more reliable product,” says Ekberg. The team also makes their customers understand the futility of adding processes, which they possibly assumed to be critical but, in reality, are manufacturing variables that are independent from the product specification and performance.
The approach of viewing the components individually makes it simple, easy to understand, control, maintain, or modify
“Removing such processes opens up alternative ways of manufacturing and processing that are cost-effective and risk-free,” explains Ekberg.
Highline Controls follows a robust design process that stems from the concept of Complex Adaptive Systems. Highline uses this approach and focuses on designing simple independent components that have simple functions and then combining these components into a solution. “This approach of viewing the components individually, makes it simple, easy to understand, control, maintain, or modify,” says Ekberg. For example, any time an assembly or operation is carried out, it is only monitored or controlled at that specific step. Most companies have huge stack-ups of components and the tooling that tries to hold and assemble it. “We design the manufacturing or assembly step local to two mating surfaces with a definite focus on that joining process, which removes the stack-up of the rest of the tooling and creation of a very huge mechanical, rigid process,” says Ekberg. The company takes pride in having very flexible tooling and has designed the assembly step into the product. “Mating surfaces dominate the assembly and not tooling, and that cuts tooling and automation costs drastically,” points out Ekberg.
In an implementation highlight, the Highline Controls team sidestepped general industry-accepted processes and introduced a pre-processing stage, which cut the cycle time in half without impacting product quality. In yet another instance, the company built brand new machines for a customer in a very short time span as opposed to the industry norm of 18 months. The proof of principle was completed in two months, the prototype in six months, and two months after that, by working on all the machines concurrently, Highline Controls built six production machines rapidly.
Ekberg attributes their organization’s success to their multi-skilled team, an ensemble of designers and engineers with a wealth of experience in electronics, wafer manufacturing, automotive, and medical devices. The versatile team draws on their vast experience in multiple processes and industries to swiftly come up with innovative ideas. As per Ekberg, their strength is in quickly understanding the criticalness of identifying non-conformity of medical devices.
For the year ahead, the company envisions to continue helping their loyal customers accelerate their journey from the development phase to clinical trials and into full-scale production.