MADE IN SHEFFIELD: Polished performance from medical tools specialist

Visual inspector Sharon Biggin. Picture: Chris Etchells
Visual inspector Sharon Biggin. Picture: Chris Etchells

Its surgical tools are used by implant surgeons around the world, but one vital process at Sheffield Precision Medical would be familiar to the ‘buffer girls’ of yesteryear - hand polishing.

Then, as now, only highly skilled operators with years of experience can achieve perfection.

Buffer girls were famous for putting a ‘mirror finish’ on cutlery. Today, SPM guarantees a ‘super finish’ on a stainless steel knee.

It is just one of hundreds of skills and specialisms helping the company, based on Petre Street, Burngreave, grow in a tough market - which is booming as the population gets older and heavier.

It makes thousands of instruments and tools used mainly in knee and hip implant operations including weird and wonderful clamps, drills, chisels and screws.

One ‘knee kit’ contains more than a 100 items. Surgery can require medics to be both incredibly delicate and brutal.

Martin Glen, hand polishing at Sheffield Precision Medical

Martin Glen, hand polishing at Sheffield Precision Medical

Dan Houghton, technical and sales manager, holds up an ‘impactor’ used to drive home an artificial hip.

He said: “You don’t really want people to know because it will worry them, but the surgeon is holding this in place and hitting it as hard as they can. From our point of view, we need to know the welds won’t fail.”

SPM boasts milling and grinding machines and an inspection department.

And as specialised as it is, the city’s expertise in metals plays an important part in its success.

Apprentice Connor Birch

Apprentice Connor Birch

The firm relies on local companies for help with welding, heat treatment, electropolishing, laser marking equipment and - when it’s really busy - machining and grinding.

And a cluster of medical instrument firms help create a skilled workforce including B.Braun, JRI, Orchid and Tecomet.

Some 98 per cent of its raw materials - mainly stainless steel bars - are sourced locally too, according to Dan.

Today, the firm is riding high after a three-year project to become an approved supplier to US giant Zimmer Biomet.

Stuart Reece with a CNC machine at Sheffield Precision Medical Ltd. Pictured is Stuart Reece. Picture: Chris Etchells

Stuart Reece with a CNC machine at Sheffield Precision Medical Ltd. Pictured is Stuart Reece. Picture: Chris Etchells

It adds to a list that includes Smith & Nephew and Johnson & Johnson and has led to a jump in orders. Exports have leapt from 28 to 52 per cent of turnover in two years.

The increase bagged the firm a national award.

Sue Roberts, operations manager, said: “We are now in this very good position, thanks to the foresight of Brian Reece. Doors are being opened to the big customers for the first time.”

Managing director Brian Reece worked for the firm’s former owner Depuy. And when that company was planning to close it, he led a management team in a buy out in 2010.

Today head count is 43 and turnover is £2.4m, up from £2m the year previous.

And after spending £800,00 over the last three years developing the regulatory and certification side of the business, it is now poised for major growth.

Ops manager Sue Roberts with knee implants. Picture: Chris Etchells

Ops manager Sue Roberts with knee implants. Picture: Chris Etchells

It also has four apprentices, plus one who has just become a manager after completing a four-year programme, Jack Mitchell.

Meanwhile, a project with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre - part of Sheffield University - is reaping rewards. Together they developed a titanium screw used to re-attach snapped cruciate ligaments in the leg back on to bone.

Now it makes thousands of them in 25 different sizes for a company in Huddersfield.

Implants such as this could be a new direction.

BRAND RECOGNISED AROUND THE GLOBE

Sheffield Precision Medical has been a Made in Sheffield member for as long as anyone can remember.

Boss Brian Reece is “passionate” about the trademark and the tradition, quality and innovation it represents.

The accreditation played a part in winning orders from Japan’s biggest orthopaedic firm, when staff visited Sheffield.

Sue Roberts, operations manager, said: “It’s a brand recognised around the world and another badge of approval.”

Dan Houghton with a patella clamp

Dan Houghton with a patella clamp

CNC operator Craig Beatson with raw material: stainless steel bars

CNC operator Craig Beatson with raw material: stainless steel bars