Smithstown makes the difference

by Paul Fanning

For an example of an Irish engineering company enjoying rapid growth, it would be difficult to find better than Smithstown Light Engineering.

For many Irish manufacturers, the last few decades have been a tale of dizzying growth from often humble beginnings. One such story can be found with Smithstown Light Engineering.

Based in Smithstown Industrial Estate in Shannon, Smithstown Light Engineering is a second-generation, indigenous Irish firm operating for over 45 years and employing 128 people. It specialises in the provision of precision engineering solutions to the top medical device and orthopaedic companies globally.

The company was founded by Brian King in 1974 and has been manufacturing in Shannon since then. Starting out with a workforce of 4 skilled toolmakers, Smithstown built steadily over the years up to a workforce of over 50 skilled workers. In 1984, it entered a partnership with Molex, further strengthening its position servicing the electronics industry. At that time its primary products were plastic injection moulds typically for complex electrical connectors, but it also manufactured high precision production tooling and jigs and fixtures.

In the early 1990s, Smithstown began to move towards specialising in medical device manufacturing. Its strong background in developing high quality products stood it in good stead and it moved to develop the quality systems to support this new focus. In 1993 it obtained the ISO9001 quality standard for its Quality Management System. Since then, it has invested heavily in machinery, technology and staff in order to become a premium supplier in the medical devices sector. In 2006, it implemented ISO13485 for medical devices to further strengthen our QMS

In 2006, Smithstown returned to 100% Irish ownership when Molex accepted an offer from Smithstown for its share in the company. In 2011, Gerard King moved into the role of managing director, since when it has further underlined its commitment to continuously improving our QMS by implementing ISO14001 Environmental standard.

In 2013, in order to allow for future growth of the company, Smithstown extended its floor space by building on a 14,000ft2 extension and continued to invest in technology by adding several new machining resources. It soon reached capacity and in 2017, it opened a second manufacturing site with 10,000ft2 and hired an additional 30 staff.

The latest development for the company is a newly-constructed 40,000ft2 manufacturing facility that was officially opened by Pat Breen TD, Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection. Smithstown’s expansion has trebled the size of its new) production facility and will create up to 60 new jobs over the next two years.

This move was made because the new site had reached capacity by the end of 2018. The Enterprise Ireland supported company has invested over €6 Million in the last 12 months in new machining technologies along with the 30,000ft2 manufacturing floor extension.

The new facility will create 60 new jobs over a two- to three-year period, creating roles for engineering machinists, programmers and quality control specialists. It will also house an innovation centre so the precision engineering firm can collaborate with customers in R&D, examine opportunities with new technologies in the additive manufacturing sector and potentially deliver advanced technology roles.

Pat Breen said of the new facility: “I would like to congratulate Smithstown Light Engineering on their continued expansion and commend the ambition and determination of this indigenous company to compete at the highest level on a global stage. This expansion and the announcement today of 60 new high-quality jobs is very welcome news for the Shannon area and is an endorsement of Ireland’s growing reputation as a global leader in Life Sciences and medical devices.”

Gerard King, CEO of Smithstown, said, “Our ongoing investment and expansion of our production capabilities reflects our commitment to be at the cutting edge of leading technologies. Since our inception 45 years ago, we have transitioned from a parts production company to a global leader in new technologies and advanced manufacturing methods for the MedTech sector at home and abroad. I would like to thank our staff and Enterprise Ireland for their invaluable support and commitment over the years.”

“This is about future-proofing. Our customers are experiencing incredible growth and are keen to reduce lead times in sourcing products around the world. This expansion ensures we can keep up with their growing demand for ultra precision products used in lifesaving treatments,” he continued.

Enterprise Ireland Senior Development Adviser, John Shiel added: “Smithstown Light Engineering is a vital component of the ever-growing life sciences industry in Ireland, and today’s announcement is particularly positive for the Shannon region.”

“Each of Enterprise Ireland’s nine regional teams is strategically focused on driving regional development and supporting companies such as Smithstown to expand and build scale globally. Sustained investment is an important aspect of that work and it ultimately means investing in Ireland’s regions and domestic job creation. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the company’s management and staff here in Shannon and are excited to see what is next for the company,” he continued.

Smithstown’s growth has also been reflected in its investment in equipment. Twenty-four Cincom sliding-headstock CNC bar autos were installed by 2019 by Citizen Machinery UK at one of the two factory units operated by Shannon-based medical component manufacturer.

The major investment followed Smithstown's receipt of a contract from a multinational medical firm for machining multiple variants of two types of endoscopic device parts from 303 stainless steel bar. Annual quantity is currently 18 million for the production of nine million assemblies.

Managing director Gerard King had identified the business opportunity in 2017 and machined sample parts on a 20mm bar capacity Cincom L20 installed three years previously to fulfil another contract, which is still running, for turning a 316 stainless steel spindle for a medical delivery device.

Discussions progressed and to develop the process further, he decided to buy on-spec a 12 mm bar capacity Cincom L12, which is of more appropriate size for producing the endoscope parts in short cycle times. The lathe was installed in August 2017 in a second, newly acquired and extensively refurbished unit on the same industrial estate in Shannon, where an extension currently being built will bring the subcontractor's total factory space to 80,000ft2.

Further successful trials continued with the assistance of applications engineers at Citizen Machinery UK's Bushey and Brierley Hill technical centres, where programs were optimised and early samples were turn-milled. In April 2018, the medical equipment OEM was ready to award the ongoing contract, which by then had grown to its current production level. Further increases are likely, perhaps even a doubling of quantities.

Mr King commented: "The first of the L12s started arriving here in July 2018 and the last ones were on site by January 2019. All are operating 24/7. The lead-time from the customer signing the contract and our shipping the first parts in production quantities was five months. Citizen supported us well during this ramp-up phase.

"A lot of the success of the project was down to the partnership that has developed between our engineers and those at Citizen Machinery UK, which incidentally has two application and service engineers in Ireland dedicated to this market.

"Before delivering the machines, Citizen set them up at their technical centres complete with high-pressure coolant, mist extraction and full tooling packages, so they were production-ready when they arrived."

He added that the Cincom L12s are so accurate, being easily able to hold dimensions to within 5 microns, that with the relatively open tolerances on the endoscope component drawings, a process performance in excess of Ppk 2 is being achieved, better than the Ppk 1.33 stipulated. It means that there is never a need to chase tolerance, so fewer operators are able to attend the 24 bar autos is than would otherwise be needed.

All of the latest sliding-head lathes are equipped with Citizen's patented LFV (low frequency vibration) software, part of the control's operating system that assists chip breaking when machining materials that tend to generate long, stringy swarf when they are being turned.

In conclusion Mr King said, "More than one-third of a billion endoscopies are performed every year around the world and we are currently manufacturing about 2.5 per cent of the associated consumables at the premium end of the market.

"There are many medical contracts that involve these sorts of numbers. Now that we have proved ourselves to be capable of realising a mass production facility in a very short timeframe, we are hopeful of winning more high-volume business.

"While medical devices for endoscopy constitute around two-fifths of our turnover, we are also very active in machining coronary delivery devices as well as cobalt chrome implants, with trials in titanium currently in progress, so future projects could involve any of these."

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Smithstown Light Engineering

Smithstown Light Engineering have expertise in Injection Moulding, Medical Devices, Contract Manufacturing and Precision Components. Its state-of-the-art equipment and world class expertise ensure that it can provide a world class products in the field of precision manufacturing across a wide range of industries.

Its engineering department (PECS) offer you expertise, leadership and experience. Each of its engineers has over 25 years experience in the industry. When working with Smithstown customers receive the personal attention of one of the PECS team who keeps them up to date as their project moves through production.

The company’s Quality Management System guarantees that it has complete control over the method of manufacture of your product, and full traceability of any raw materials or purchased parts that are used in the production process. It also operates a policy of continuous staff retraining in order to ensure that anyone who works on a job has the relevant skills.

In addition to its extensive range of machining facilities (featuring both three- and five-axis maching centres), the companies capabilities encompass laser cutting; turning; surface grinding; OD/ID grinding; jig grinding; spark electro-discharge machining (EDM); laser marking and printing; laser welding; mould testing; inspection; surface finishing; passivation and cleaning; heat treatment; tool control; drill EDM and a number of suites of CAD and CAM software.

The company’s customer list includes such illustrious names as Abbott Ireland, Analog Devices, B. Braun, BD Medical, Boston Scientific, Cook Ireland, DePuy, Element 6, Filtertek, Ferrero Ireland, Henkel Ireland, Kostal, Lufthansa, Medtronic, Molex, Millipore, Opplast, Stryker, Teleflex, Thorsman, Vistakon and more.

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