When Mounts and More originally 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 for not only individual users, but also hospital groups across the UK and Europe. From this experience of being 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. “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. Also, as a manufacturer we would be able to access greater export support from the Department of Trade and Industry.”
Mounts and More’s core market is the supply of mounts to assist wheelchair users in the use of augmentative and alternative communication systems (AAC), the most familiar user of such equipment was the late Professor Stephen Hawking. Through its longstanding association with Daessy, with its extensive range of wheelchair mounting systems it has built a strong business supporting higher dependency wheelchair users, which equate to around 10 per cent of the market, where funding is more readily available to purchase accessories that make life easier for these customers. “The 90 per cent of wheelchair users find it increasingly difficult to access funding, which is why we are focussing 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.”
To develop these products Mounts and More initially invited quotes for machining work but could not find anyone interested, therefore the decision was taken to invest in some machining capacity. Budget and space restrictions limited the choice and capability of these first Chinese machines, which also came with their own issues in terms of reliability. These factors would open their eyes to the potential of investing in more robust and quality machinery. Therefore, when additional floorspace became available, Ian and his son William, looked to invest again, with the first requirement being increased machining centre capacity. Initial research by William identified the XYZ 750 LR as the ideal machine and his investigation confirmed that the quality and performance of the XYZ machine, along with service and support would meet their needs. Price was also a factor, with Yorkshireman Ian’s reaction being ‘how much? how much and how much?’ in that order. But with subcontractors now refusing to quote for the volumes 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,” says Ian Bullock. “With the arrival of the XYZ 750 LR we have got back control of production, we could no longer be dependent on others, we had to have the ability to make things ourselves. The machine also allows us to provide a much more bespoke service, as we can modify designs quickly to suit customer needs, 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 floorstand, which takes just 40 per cent of the floorspace of conventional systems, that has proved to be a success and having the XYZ machine means we can turn ideas like this into reality sooner.”
The speed and build quality of the XYZ 750 LR linear rail-type machining centre has brought significant productivity gains. An example of this are the riser blocks used on the new Mounts and More Mini floorstand. Previously on their old machine it took seven minutes to produce one-off, now thanks to the 18 hp/13 kW, 8000 revs/min spindle and up to 20m/min feedrates, four of these risers are produced each cycle in just over six minutes, a near 80 per cent saving per part. In addition to cycle time savings Mounts and More also saw improvement in surface finish thanks to the build quality and performance of the linear rail construction of the XYZ 750 LR. “We can certainly push the XYZ machine harder and faster than before and achieve better quality products. We can now manufacture bespoke systems and further develop our own product range with a view to expanding our market reach to beyond the 10 per cent of the sector that we already serve,” says Ian. “One unforeseen advantage of the XYZ 750 LR 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 selling them a premium product and having the machine enhances that perception in their eyes.”