When Mounts & More Ltd started in 1996, it was intended to be a part-time enterprise, but the business quickly ‘morphed’ from being a small distributor of products for wheelchair users into a service and support centre — not only for individual users, but also hospital groups across the UK and Europe.
From this experience of what managing director Ian Bullock describes as being the ‘middle man’, he began to develop his own ideas, which initially were passed straight back to Daessy, the Canada-based supplier of the equipment he was selling.
Mr Bullock said: “As part of that agreement, we were precluded from selling other products, but they gave us their blessing — and at times support — to start designing and making our own accessories and custom parts to complement the ‘Daessy mounting system’.
“As many of these designs were unique to our local requirements, it made sense to invest in our own manufacturing capability.
“Moreover, as a manufacturer, we would be able to access greater export support from the Department of Trade and Industry.”
Mounts & More’s core market is the supply of mounts that help wheelchair users to use ‘augmentative and alternative communication’ systems; the most familiar user of such equipment was the late Professor Stephen Hawking.
Through the company’s long-standing association with Daessy, which has an extensive range of wheelchair mounting systems, Mounts & More has built a strong business supporting higher-dependency wheelchair users, and the company now has about 10% of the market — one where “funding is more readily available to purchase accessories that make life easier for these customers”.
Mr Bullock said: “Some 90% of wheelchair users find it increasingly difficult to access funding, which is why we are focusing on developing products that allow them to adapt off-the-shelf technology to meet their needs.
For example, a fully specified Eyegaze communication device can cost well over £10,000, but we have developed a bracket that allows an Eyegaze camera to be used with a Microsoft Surface Pro to create a basic Eyegaze device.”
Lack of interest
To develop the products needed, Mounts & More initially invited quotes for machining work, but it could not find anyone interested, so it decided to invest in the necessary machining capacity and undertake the work itself.
Budget and space restrictions limited the company’s choice, but the Chinese machines initially bought had issues in terms of reliability.
Therefore, when additional floor-space became available, Mr Bullock and his son William looked to invest again — with the first requirement being increased machining capacity.
Initial research by William Bullock identified the XYZ 750 LR (www.xyzmachinetools.com
) as ‘the ideal machine, and with sub-contractors now refusing to quote for the volumes that he needed, or giving extremely long lead times, he knew it was the right investment.
“We initially considered buying a used machine, but the security provided by a new machine in terms of the back-up we could call on if we had any questions related to programming and operating the machine — or in terms of service — convinced us that a new machine was the way to go.
“With the installation of the XYZ 750 LR, we have got back control of production, and we are no longer dependent on others.
“The machine also allows us to provide a much more bespoke service, as we can modify designs quickly to suit customer needs.
“Moreover, new product development is enhanced, as we can produce prototype parts when we need them.
“We have hundreds of ideas, such as our recently developed Mini floor-stand, which takes just 40% of the floor-space of conventional systems.
“Having the XYZ machine means we can turn ideas like this into reality sooner.”
The XYZ 750 LR linear-rail machining centre has brought significant productivity gains.
An example of this is the riser blocks used on the new Mounts & More ‘Mini floor-stand’.
It took 7min to produce a single item on the company’s old machine; now, thanks to the 13kW 8,000rev/min spindle and 20m/min feed rates, four of these risers can be produced in just over 6min. — a near 80% saving per part.
In addition to cycle-time savings, Mounts & More has also seen improvement in surface finish.
“We can certainly push the XYZ machine harder and faster than with our other machines — and achieve better-quality products.
“Moreover, we can manufacture bespoke systems, and further develop our own product range with a view to expanding our market beyond the 10% of the sector that we already serve.
“Another advantage of the XYZ 750 LR — and one that we had not foreseen — was the effect it has on customers.
“We regularly get visits from NHS trusts and wheelchair manufacturers, and the machine makes a distinct impression on them.
“We are making them a premium product, and having the machine enhances that perception in their eyes.”