As I write this, Thanksgiving is weeks away and Christmas is right around the corner. It’s a time to reflect on what we’re thankful for and what truly matters in life. In manufacturing—and business, in general—we tend to focus so much on getting product out the door and meeting our numbers that we don’t often think about the impact our operations have on the lives of our customers and employees. Sometimes, our operations can literally be the difference between life and death.

The following story is a case in point. It was sent in October by IMPACT Converting & Systems Solutions, a Michigan-based manufacturer of cutting dies for the converting industry.

“In her 35-year career as business manager in one of IMPACT’s divisional offices, Sheri Robinson knew the company’s dies were used to make products for everyday life. But IMPACT’s work beat the odds when its groundbreaking design for a heart valve die saved her daughter’s life.

“Sheri’s daughter, Sarah Robinson, was born with a hole in her heart and a leaking valve. When she was 18 months old, she underwent open-heart surgery to repair the hole and replace the valve. The procedure proved to be temporary, and Sarah and her family knew she would need a replacement sometime in the future.

“Sarah’s temporary replacement valve allowed her to live an active lifestyle for many years. But in 2019, during her freshman year of college, she began to feel tired and couldn’t climb stairs without becoming breathless, even though she was very fit and in good physical shape from musical theatre, dance and other activities. She experienced rapid heartbeats and often felt as though she would pass out. The time for a replacement had arrived.

“A few years earlier, IMPACT had been approached by a medical device manufacturer looking for a company to produce a die for a specialized heart valve. Made with bovine tissue, the valve has many positive attributes, the most important of which was that it could be inserted into a patient via catheter without the need for open-heart surgery.

“IMPACT created a steel rule die (SRD). While the part had difficult geometry and was compact—only about the size of a quarter—IMPACT was able to cut it with an SRD die that had an acrylic base. SRD dies are made with multiple pieces. This application required 10 blade segments. Adjusting one spot could affect all other dimensions. While the prototype delivered an impressive 70 percent success rate, the tolerances were difficult to keep consistent, and the die’s lifespan was short due to corrosion over time. IMPACT looked at other ways to improve.

“The answer was an Eagle die. Chemically etched and machine sharpened, an Eagle die can be built to cut virtually any shape. Additionally the Eagle Die can be used on a variety of platen presses as a stand-alone die or as an insert in an SRD. By eliminating natural nicks where steel rule joints come together, the die delivers a consistent and repeatable cut with tight tolerances. The die gives printers and converters the ability to cut detailed shapes that previously were not achievable or only available through laser cutting.

“For the heart valve application, the one-piece machined part holds tighter tolerances and has a significantly longer lifespan than the SRD prototype. The Eagle die is able to produce the valves with a 100 percent success rate. The medical device manufacturer had found its solution, and the valve earned FDA approval.

“Thanks to this technological development, Sarah’s second valve surgery was a transcatheter procedure instead of open-heart. The valve was inserted through her leg, where a balloon-like device opened the artery and inserted the new valve.

“Today, Sarah has a new lease on life. She picked up her active lifestyle, while studying psychology and criminal justice at Indiana University in South Bend. Upon graduation, she has plans to continue her education, pursuing a master’s program to become a social worker.

“Sheri discovered the link between Sarah’s new valve and her workplace when she saw IMPACT’s name on Sarah’s emergency medical alert card. ‘I knew IMPACT was a really well-respected company, but I never knew they made the die for Sarah’s valve,’ says Sheri. ‘IMPACT truly has heart. My employer saved my daughter’s life, too. I couldn’t be more grateful.’”

Manufacturing matters. What you do every day matters. Let’s all be thankful for that.