Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in research and development activity at medical device manufacturing facilities around Galway, while the same area in the west of Ireland has also seen a surge in the growth of companies in the biosciences field.
One contract machinist that was quick to spot these trends is ISO 9001:2000-accredited Riteway Engineering, located on the Liosban Industrial Estate in Galway City. To help it take advantage of business opportunities generated by the expanding medical sector, the company has invested in new machine tools, notably from Hurco Europe, and has forged links with NUIG (National University of Ireland - Galway) and GMIT (Galway - Mayo Institute of Technology).
Riteway's specialisms are computer aided design and quick-turnaround manufacture of highly accurate components for the surgical, pharmaceutical and machine automation sectors. Batch size ranges from prototypes to several hundreds-off and over 95 per cent of turnover is currently in the medical sector.
Company directors and equal partners, Chris Murphy and Keith Donnellan, founded the company in 2006 with a handful of manual turning, milling and grinding machines and one customer. They now employ 10 staff and operate wire-cutting and drilling EDM machines, a fused deposition modeller and laser marking equipment in addition to CNC turning and prismatic machining centres from Hurco. Latest to be installed, in 2009, was a Hurco TMM8 lathe with 8 inch (203 mm) chuck, 12 driven stations in the turret and a short bar magazine for feeding stock up to 52 mm diameter.
"The machine at least halves production time across the turned components we produce, allowing us to make parts less expensively," said Chris Murphy. "It has also allowed us to bring in-house some of the more complex turn-milling work that we previously had to subcontract out." He commented that tight tolerances need to be held on some parts, often down to ±10 microns, which the lathe accomplishes without issue.
As ever during comparative appraisals of machine tools that involve Hurco products, it was the simplicity and power of the manufacturer's CNC system that was the deciding factor at the time of purchase. In particular, the Windows-based, conversational control offers consummate graphics support during programming.
Mr Murphy mentioned that the screen graphics are especially important when proving out turn-milling jobs, as rotating components have much more momentum than cutters on machining centres, so there is the potential for heavy collisions if a program is not correct.
It was a contract to produce 500 anodised aluminium carrier plates for transporting stents that led in 2007 to the purchase of Riteway's first of three vertical machining centres (VMCs), a 3-axis Hurco BMC30. The job was too labour intensive to complete economically on the company's 2.5D CNC milling machines and manual mills.
Mr Murphy knew Michael Gannon, Hurco's local representative in Ireland, from contact at a previous manufacturing company and asked him to source a used Hurco VMC for machining the carrier plates. Again, the manufacturer's proprietary control with its conversational programming was instrumental in the selection of this make of machine.
Called Ultimax, the CNC system has, alongside the left hand alphanumeric screen, a second screen on which a graphic of the part being programmed is continuously generated. The facility is useful for checking that the cycles are correct as programming progresses. Mr Murphy, who at the time had no prior experience of using CNC, confirmed that he was proficient with the control in just three days.
Later the same year, a new, smaller capacity Hurco VMC joined the BMC30 on the shop floor. The 3-axis VM1 provided additional capacity for producing prismatic parts at the lower end of the size range. It was followed in 2008 by a similar, 4-axis model fitted with a CNC rotary axis for higher-added-value work, reflecting a trend in the medical industry towards ever more complex components. The latest machine's single-screen Max control is shipped with Hurco's latest WinMax software, similar to that in the Windows-based control on the lathe. Continued Mr Murphy, "A lot of what we do requires small batch production, so efficiency of programming is very important to us.
"Even though the Hurco controls are quick and easy to use, we only enter data manually around 25 per cent of the time. A majority of input is created in our MasterCam and Vero PEPS computer-aided manufacturing systems and downloaded as DXF files, which the Hurco controls can read directly. "A big benefit of WinMax software is being able to toggle between conversationally generated code and external data blocks, merging them seamlessly to produce a finished program. We can do similar in the older controls, but it is more time consuming."
Mr Murphy indicated that a point in favour of purchasing Hurco machines in Ireland is that it is relatively easy to find operators that have used them, so when they join Riteway their learning curve is short.
After-sales service, training and support provided by Hurco from its High Wycombe headquarters in the UK are all good, he says, even over the telephone or if a drawing is emailed to High Wycombe for advice as to the best approach to programming.
Riteway is now poised to take its business to the next level. Later in 2011 it will move to premises three times the size of its current unit nearby in the Galway City area. Chris Murphy and Keith Donnellan will take the opportunity to DNC-link all of the CNC machines and gradually increase the company's capacity list with a view to expanding into the computer, automotive, food and aerospace sectors. All of these industries have been serviced in the past but have had to take a back seat due to the concentration on medical work in recent years.
Further Hurco machine tools will undoubtedly form a cornerstone of this new platform for business expansion.