Sean started a company that could provide everything from prototyping, design and machining to bespoke automation projects, fixture design and manufacture, consultation, 3D printing, reverse engineering and even post-project support to develop a strong business base. However, the Machinelab founder recognised that the fundamentals of the business needed to be built upon lead time, pricing and quality – all aspects the business is achieving with the support of the Engineering Technology Group (ETG) Ireland. The company has recently invested in a Mitsubishi MV1200S wire EDM machine that has rapidly been followed by a Nakamura-Tome AS200LYMT.
Located in Wexford, the rapidly growing business now employs 17 staff. This rapid rise has come from the company’s ability to offer a full ‘life cycle’ design and manufacturing service for custom-built parts and assemblies for pharmaceutical and medical device companies and other highly regulated industries. The company recently moved to a new 15,000sq/ft facility, and with sufficient space to expand, Machinelab has installed the Mitsubishi MV1200S wire EDM machine. It has also ordered a Nakamura-Tome AS200LYMT single spindle turning centre from ETG Ireland.
Discussing the company’s rapid ascension to success, Managing Director Sean Kehoe says: “As an engineer with a background in machine, assembly line and jig and fixture design and building, I spotted an opportunity to deliver a level of service and quality beyond that of existing manufacturers. In Ireland, this niche service and expertise has been lacking in the continually expanding medical and pharmaceutical industry – this gave our fledgling business a window of opportunity and we have fully embraced it.”
Starting out of nothing more than a shed with a router, Sean initially made medical vile trays and other components for the medical industry on a routing machine. From there the company progressed to machining centres. As Sean recalls: “I initially bought a router, as it was all I could afford. I then bought a few 3-axis VMCs, a lathe, a surface grinder and a spark erosion machine – some of these were used machines. Just before Christmas, I bought a used ETG Vulcan 610L VMC and I was thoroughly impressed. When it came to service and support, we reached out to ETG – and this was our first encounter with the County Kildare company. We have several machining centres from a reputable leading brand, and we have found the Vulcan VMC to be far more robust and rigid than the leading rival. The machine has a much better build quality and stability, and it also has a high-pressure through coolant facility and a much faster tool changer – all-round, it's a much better machine. We would certainly buy another.”
This introduction to ETG Ireland’s level of service and the quality of its machine tools was ascertained. So, when the company was looking for a wire erosion machine for precision holemaking and profiling, the company once again turned to ETG Ireland. As Sean recalls: “We already had an older EDM machine, but we needed exceptional levels of precision. Instead of looking around the market, we asked our industry contacts, competitors and customers about the technology they used – they all recommended Mitsubishi. We ordered the Mitsubishi MV1200S and it was delivered just after Christmas.”
As well as production line projects, the company also manufactures mould tools and components from brass, stainless steel and D2 steel that require a high number of precision holes from 0.3 to 3mm diameter that can be up to 30XD – this was creating an issue with part scrapping and excessive set-ups. As Sean recalls: “Some of these parts have very tight tolerances and for us to wire a 0.3mm diameter hole on our existing machine, we would have to first drill at 0.27mm diameter. The issue here was broken drills and frequently scrapped parts. We were even drilling the holes from both sides of the part on our 5-axis machines to evade potential drill breakages. We had a lot of parts that would need to be re-set, creating an overall production time of up to 6 hours. By using the Mitsubishi MV1200S, we can now process a 6-hour job in less than 40 minutes. What we are finding is that we can pre-drill small holes with limited precision – and then wire the holes to a tolerance of fewer than 5 microns. We are EDM profiling over 40 high-precision small holes every month, so the Mitsubishi is saving us a lot of time already.”
Another reason the Irish manufacturer invested in the Mitsubishi MV1200S EDM was for the profiling of components, something that could alleviate capacity bottlenecks on other machines. As Sean continues: “A lot of our machining is small runs of stainless to hard steel parts in quantities of 2 to 5-off. The often complex profiles absorb capacity from our most capable technology. The Mitsubishi MV1200S can be quickly set up to profile these challenging parts, absorbing capacity from our 5-axis machines. Additionally, the Mitsubishi MV1200S can provide a level of precision beyond that of our other machines. We can profile parts to a tolerance of 4 microns with a surface finish of 0.2 to 0.4Ra - again exceeding the surface finishes of our other machines.”
By purchasing the Mitsubishi MV1200S, Machinelab Ltd has improved its precision and surface finishes on components, reduced set-up times and also eliminated scrap on particularly challenging parts that require small holes and improved throughput. As Sean adds: “We can set up the EDM and leave it to run while a machine operator is tending to other machines. The running cost of the EDM is minimal compared to a machining centre consuming lots of tools through machining hard parts, it complements our machining department perfectly. The longer we have the machine, the more applications we find for it. As a relatively new company, ETG Ireland has offered us an excellent finance package that has made the Mitsubishi purchase possible. The terms are so favourable for small start-up companies, we have just ordered another machine.”
At the end of March, Machinelab Ltd placed an order for a Nakamura-Tome AS200LYMT that has just been delivered. Alluding to this order, Sean adds: “We have a semi-CNC turning centre and whilst it is a capable machine, it cannot provide the precision or productivity we require for the increasing upturn in turning work. We have one regular part that requires 5-micron concentricity over the 5-inch length of the component. Our existing machine struggles with this, leaving us with excessive operator intervention to remain within tolerance.”
“The Nakamura AS200LYMT turning centre will easily meet our precision requirements. With driven tooling capability, we will be looking for this machine to take capacity from our milling department – as the Mitsubishi has. We were transferring jobs from the lathe to the mill and vice-versa for secondary operations. The Nakamura AS200LYMT will eliminate this bottleneck from our business. ETG Ireland are also able to offer us a full turnkey solution to our projects something that we recently discovered in purchasing the Nakamura Tome. ETG Ireland also has the right staff in Ireland, be it sales or technical service right here in Ireland, where other companies would have support only from the UK. We are delighted with the technology and the service from ETG Ireland – and we look forward to working closely with them on our journey to continued success,” concludes Sean.