Manufacturing company Dromone Engineering (Oldcastle, Ireland), established in 1978 and now employing over 140 people, decided not to focus on providing a subcontract machining service, but instead to develop, manufacture, and market its own product lines. The company produces tractor pick-up hitches for the agricultural sector and excavator quick couplers for the construction sector.
The dilemma of manufacturing in a first-world country and trimming prices to two decimal places has continually focused the minds of the company's directors and shaped their capital investments. In March 2019, two long-serving, reliable 3.5 kW CO2 machines were replaced with a ByStar Fiber 4020 10 kW fiber laser cutting center from Bystronic, with a material handling system and tower store that accommodates up to 96 tons of material on 17 levels.
"We export almost all of our products to 39 countries, either directly to blue chip customers like JCB, Volvo, Massey Ferguson, Claas, and Kubota, or via a worldwide distribution network servicing other OEMs, dealer networks, and rental fleets," explains William Egenton, Dromone Engineering's managing director. "Customers in the West in particular appreciate the fact that we manufacture safety-critical products tailored to their specific needs in Ireland and are impressed when they visit us, but to make the operation financially viable, we have to use a high level of automation.
"That is why we have invested €5 million over the last five years in the latest laser cutting technology, three Panasonic robotic welding cells, four Mazak horizontal- and vertical-spindle machining centers, and enterprise resource planning software," Egenton continues.
The increase in cutting output at the company has been dramatic. The single fiber machine fed from the sheet storage and retrieval tower produces 30% more than both of the previous CO2 machines combined.
The tower system has a pair of handling carriages. One transfers a laser-cut sheet to a twin offload table at the back of the ByStar Fiber machine while the other more or less simultaneously picks up a new sheet from the store and loads it onto the machine's shuttle table, from where it is immediately transported into the cutting area.
Little laser cutting time is lost and machine utilization is around 90%. Labor cost is saved, as the operator is required to run the cell for only 2.3 shifts rather than three to achieve the required output, which currently satisfies delivery of 11,000 tractor line products and 6000 construction line products per year.
Dromone processes 3-20 mm mild steel on the ByStar Fiber machine. The 10 kW laser cuts thinner gauges 3–4X faster than a 3.5 kW CO2 source—a speed advantage that reduces as material thickness rises. This translates into reductions in production cost per part of two-thirds on thinner components down to one-third on thicker parts.
The compact laser configuration fits into a corner of the company's factory that was previously unused, saving 1700 square meters of space. Six machine tools will fit into the area where the CO2 lasers were removed, which will enable the company to develop further the lean manufacturing and flow line practices it embarked on a decade ago.