Keith Donnellan and Chris Murphy, directors and joint partners of Riteway Engineering in Galway, western Ireland, have enjoyed considerable success since starting their company in 2006 with a handful of manually operated machines and a single customer. By 2011 they were employing eight staff and operating a range of CNC machine tools including three machining centres and a lathe from Hurco.
Business has mushroomed since then. At the end of 2015 the company had twice as many employees, five times the factory space at 15,000 sq ft and six times the turnover. The same period saw the addition of six more Hurco machining centres and a move to double shifts, six days a week, with a third shift added when needed.
Mr Donnellan said that all of this growth, which continued throughout the last recession, has been organic and has come mainly from referrals from satisfied customers. Rather than just working for firms in the Galway area, Riteway now supplies companies throughout the whole of Ireland and in the UK as well.
Contracts from the medical industry have held up well and account for about half of the subcontractor’s business, especially the design and manufacture of prototype and pre-production surgical and pharmaceutical products. Additionally, strong entry into assembly aid manufacture for the automotive industry and into telecommunications has seen these sectors each rise to become 25 per cent of turnover.
It is clear that such rapid business development needs careful management. Mr Donnellan explained, ‘Doubling our personnel in four years meant introducing a lot of new employees to the way we operate.
‘It was a real bonus that all of our shop floor recruits knew how to program and operate Hurco machines, as there are so many of them in use in the west of Ireland and indeed throughout the whole of the country.
‘We do not have any other make of machining centre here, so every new machine operator was up to speed quickly, making the transition with each intake of people seamless.’
A majority of programs at the Galway factory is prepared conversationally at the Hurco machine controls using the proprietary Windows-based WinMax software, which offers extensive graphics support. The facility is useful for checking that the cycles are correct as programming progresses. Another benefit of WinMax is being able to merge conversational code with external data blocks for more complex parts of a cycle generated using an external CAM system.
It was the ease of use of the Hurco control system that was the decisive factor in Riteway opting for this make of vertical machining centre in the early days, when a contract to manufacture aluminium carrier plates for stents was too much for the subcontractor’s 2.5D CNC milling machines and manual mills.
The directors knew Michael Gannon, Hurco's local representative in Ireland, from contact at a previous manufacturing company and the first of what would become nine 3-axis, vertical machining centres was installed in 2007. A fourth CNC axis indexing unit was also purchased and is swapped between the machines.
Mr Murphy, who at the time had no prior experience of using a CNC machine tool, confirmed that he was proficient with the control in just three days. He emphasised that a lot of contracts involve small batch production and even one-off prototypes, so efficiency of programming is important to minimise downtime.
He also said that the after-sales service, training and support provided by Hurco from its High Wycombe headquarters in the UK are all good, even over the telephone or if a drawing is emailed to the supplier for advice on how best to approach a program.
The Hurco lathe has been particularly beneficial to Riteway’s operation since it was installed in 2009. The TMM8 turning centre is equipped with an 8 inch (203 mm) chuck, 12 driven stations in the tool turret and a Hydrafeed short bar magazine for feeding stock up to 52 mm diameter.
Compared with pre-existing turning plant on site, the machine at least halved production times across a range of turned components, reducing manufacturing cost per part significantly. It also allowed Riteway to bring in-house some of the more complex turn-milling work that was being subcontracted. Tight tolerances are held, often down to ±10 or ± 20 microns.
Mr Donnellan added that the screen graphics in WinMax 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.