In the next five years the global respiratory care devices market is expected to grow at a rate of 9.65% due to increasing pressures on respiratory health care and aging populations[i]. As a specialist medical device manufacturer, Armstrong Medical is in a prime position to take advantage of future opportunities, having recently added to its injection moulding machine portfolio.
Faced with a need to increase production after negotiating a new contract to supply a carbon dioxide absorbent for use in anesthesia and manufactured using a brand new suite of mould tools, the Northern Ireland moulder spoke to longstanding partner Sumitomo (SHI) Demag about acquiring an additional machine. By September, the new hybrid Systec Servo 160 was in position and helping to meet the demands of Armstrong Medical’s new customer.
This business growth scenario is a far cry from just over a decade ago; in 2007 a fire engulfed the company’s premises. Armstrong Medical rapidly reconstructed the production facility it had built up since 2003, ordering replacement injection moulding machines from Sumitomo (SHI) Demag. Just two years later the firm received The Queen's Award for Enterprise for International Trade.
“All of the assembly and manufacturing areas were destroyed, but we managed to keep a warehouse that had only been handed over the previous week,” recalls Nigel Simpson, plastics project manager at Armstrong Medical. “That was a turning point for us because we were able to rebuild the way we wanted to and set the operation up to suit our needs.”
Today, the company has 11 injection moulding machines, two bench top moulding machines, a liquid silicone rubber (LSR) production cell and various other pieces of equipment tailored exclusively to Armstrong’s production process. Exporting to over 120 countries – and being predominantly involved in the production of high quality, innovative respiratory disposables for anaesthesia and critical care – Armstrong Medical’s plant also features class 10,000 and 100,000-type assembly Cleanrooms.
Discussing the need for the additional Systec Servo machine, Nigel explains why longstanding trust and knowledge of the control panel makes such a difference during the selection process. “We have a very good relationship with Sumitomo (SHI) Demag that has been built up over a long time and are extremely happy with the machinery they supply. The control system is great and our operators know that when they start working on a brand new machine, it will all be familiar to them, which helps with our productivity levels.
The team opted for the versatile Systec Servo 160 as lead-time was critical and the machine was in stock, reports Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s UK sales manager Ian Jobling.
“The day-to-day level of service is also good,” adds Nigel. “Sometimes I’m talking to their support team on a daily basis and they can always answer my questions. We are in the process of setting up remote access on our Sumitomo fleet, which will help us speed up the diagnosis of machine issues and monitor production levels. The team has been really helpful in making this process as smooth as possible to minimise business disruption.”
When Nigel was made aware that the Systec Servo 160 was available at the right price, one quick approval from the Board of Directors was all that was required to get the deal done. “The machine was ready to go and we knew that the delivery time – allowing for a Sepro robot to be ordered and fitted – would work perfectly with our production timeframe,” he explains. “The ability for us to make our own products and have vertical integration was key – it means that we were in control of our own destiny. We now have the ability to respond instantly to market demands and produce a wider range of injection-moulded items when requested.”
Client confidentiality means the specific terms of the new contract cannot be divulged, but Simpson says that the work will significantly expand the company’s portfolio. “This new machine was purchased on the back of our relationship with a larger production base, enabling us to access wider areas of the respiratory and critical care market,” he explains.
“In order for us to meet the demands, we’ve upscaled production, hence investing in new machinery. This has enabled us to lower the cost per unit without compromising on quality, which means we will be able to service a larger slice of the critical care market,” Nigel continues.
Following the latest addition, Nigel admits that Armstrong Medical is looking at increasing the number of larger injection moulding machines over the next few years and wouldn’t hesitate in calling on Sumitomo (SHI) Demag. “Our machines range from 35 tonnes to 530-tonnes, which allows us to produce a wide range of products to meet the demands of our customers,” he explains, adding that the new 160-tonne machine fits perfectly between Armstrong Medical’s existing 100T and 280T machines.
Equipped with the tooling to produce anywhere between 150 and 200 different components, Armstrong Medical has to ensure that mould tool changeovers are as quick as possible in order to maintain the high levels of efficiency and limit downtime to a minimum. New machines – such as the Servo Systec 160 – benefit from the upgraded NC5 control system to make programming easier and quicker. As a result, production efficiency levels are improved and mould change times are further reduced.
Speeding up mould change times is something the company has worked hard to improve through staff training. “We can have four or more mould changes a day on some days. We have managed to reduce the time it takes to complete the majority of these by up to 40% that with quick mould clamps, better organisation and employing correct procedures for mould changes as well as benefiting from the new NC5 control system,” emphasises Nigel.
With the respiratory care devices market predicted to be worth more than US$24 billion by 20212 – and with Armstrong Medical being one of the leaders in the sector in Northern Ireland – the investment in the Servo Systec 160 looks to be a shrewd move with more contracts anticipated in the near future.