Subcontractor invests in three-machine fiber laser cutting cell

Jan. 22, 2020
Sheet metal fabrication and CNC machining subcontractor Inishowen Engineering has invested €11 million in a new 160,000 sq. ft. factory.

Sheet metal fabrication and CNC machining subcontractor Inishowen Engineering (Drumfries, Ireland), celebrating its 25th anniversary, has invested €11 million (over $12.2 million) in a new 160,000 sq. ft. factory.

As part of the expansion program started, the company installed a 12 × 2 m capacity, 6 kW Bystronic flat-bed fiber laser cutting center in 2018 that joined two 4 × 2 m capacity models of similar power installed in 2015 and 2017. Also onsite is a CO2 laser machine for cutting tube up to 305 mm diameter by 12,500 mm long. Additionally, during the spring of 2019, Bystronic supplied and installed an automated sheet storage and handling system that continually loads and unloads material to and from the three flat‐bed lasers, reducing the manning requirements on these machines while also improving productivity. 

"Underlying this latest round of investment is our diversification from concentrating mainly on the agricultural, quarrying, and mining sectors to supplying firms manufacturing materials handling and transportation equipment, including forklifts and multipurpose tractors," explains Michael McKinney, Inishowen Engineering's owner and managing director. "In all of the industries we serve, component parts and assemblies we are asked to produce are becoming larger so that customers can minimize welding when manufacturing their products, hence the need for machines capable of processing 12-m-long sheet and tube." 

In the case of the tube laser cutting machine delivered in 2019, McKinney adds 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 metal cutting 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. 

On the subject of the Bystronic handling system, which comprises two 10-m-high storage towers with 82 locations for 4 × 2 m sheet, together with loading and unloading equipment for the three fiber lasers, McKinney says that formerly the only reason for the machines being idle was due to material not being fed to them quickly enough.  

The two smaller fiber laser cutting machines in Drumfries replaced models with 6 kW CO2 power sources, installed in 2007 and 2010. McKinney advises that the fiber laser 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 fiber machines across all gauges only serves to underline the need for efficient, automated delivery of material to the point of cutting. 

"There is a trend towards OEMs downsizing their in-house manufacturing, reducing their capacity and outsourcing more assembly operations in order to cut costs," McKinney concludes. "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. 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 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." 

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