Sheet metal fabrication and CNC machining subcontractor Inishowen Engineering, which has just celebrated its 25th anniversary, has dramatically increased the size of its production facility in County Donegal. It follows an 11 million Eurosinvestment in a new, 160,000 sq ft factory, which opened on the company's seven-acre site in Drumfries in early 2019.
In addition to the replacement of a CNC tube bender and a plasma cutting machine with more modern plant and the purchase of another large machining centre, other new machines on site include a 12 metre by 2 metre capacity, 6 kW, flat-bed fibre laser cutting centre that arrived in 2018. It joined two 4 metre by 2 metre capacity models of similar power installed in 2015 and 2017. All are BySprint Fiber Laser machines manufactured by Bystronic in Switzerland and supplied by Bystronic UK, Coventry.
"In all of the industries we serve, component parts and assemblies we are asked to produce are becoming larger so that customers can minimise welding when manufacturing their products, hence the need for machines capable of processing 12 metre long sheet and tube."
In the case of the tube laser cutting machine in particular, which was delivered in the second quarter of 2019, he added that this new offering to customers sets the company apart from most subcontractors in Ireland and also in the UK, broadening its capability considerably and preventing work from being lost to competitors with CNC tube processing capacity.
The tube laser can complete in five minutes what might take four hours of manual milling and drilling on different metalcutting machine tools. Moreover, some components cannot be produced at all by conventional means, so OEMs' design departments now have greater design freedom, knowing that more complex parts can be produced and at an economical price.
Automation eliminates bottleneck
Now that sheet supply has been automated, it is delivered much faster to the shuttle tables, enabling virtually uninterrupted production. He estimates that output from the two smaller machines is up by 30 to 50 per cent. Previously, the subcontractor was perpetually 400 to 500 hours behind with laser cutting but within three weeks of the lasers being supplied with sheet from the Bystronic storage system, the backlog had disappeared. A further advantage of automatic material feeding is that it is now easier to promote rush jobs to the top of the queue.
Fibre vastly more efficient than CO2
The two smaller fibre laser cutting machines in Drumfries replaced models with 6 kW CO2 power sources, installed in 2007 and 2010. Mr McKinney advises that the former technology is five times as productive when processing 2 mm mild steel, cutting at 40 m/min. The advantage declines somewhat as sheet thickness increases - up to 12 mm is regularly cut - but the sheer speed of the fibre machines across all gauges only serves to underline the need for efficient, automated delivery of material to the point of cutting.
Michael McKinney commented, "The BySprint Fibers not only cut significantly faster but also cost less to service and run, as there are no optics or need for assist gas and electricity consumption is much lower. Moreover, the greater reliability means that we are confident leaving the machines running unattended overnight."
Summarising the latest phase of his business expansion programme, which is just coming to fruition, Mr McKinney concluded, "There is a trend towards OEMs downsizing their in-house manufacturing, reducing their capacity and outsourcing more assembly operations in order to cut costs.
"However, for subcontractors to win this business, they need to invest in the best and most modern production equipment to satisfy customer demand and expectation. That is why we have standardised on Bystronic laser cutting and folding machines since buying our first CO2 BySprint in 2007.
"Smaller firms may struggle to finance the acquisition top-end machines, but only by doing so is it possible to obtain high quality coupled with competitive cost-per-part production.
"Especially when producing assemblies, which accounts for two-thirds of our throughput, accuracy in all areas of machining is essential to avoid time-consuming fit-up difficulties and the same applies in our customers' factories.
"Inishowen Engineering's latest 30 million Euros investment allows us to leverage the advantages of high precision combined with competitive pricing and is a clear statement of our intention to become one of the foremost one-stop-shop fabricators in Europe."
Above Image: The Bystronic BySprint fibre laser cutting machine for processing 20-metre stock at Inishowen Engineering. The storage towers are in the background.