23 March 2018

To continue subcontracting machining work - or to bring machining capabilities in house? That was…but is no longer… the question.

Engineering Control Supplies Ltd. invest in a range of high-performance used and new machine tools from Machine Tool Sales Online and MACH Machine Tools Ltd respectively, to improve productivity and profitability.

It’s a perennial issue facing precision component manufacturers.

Do you subcontract-out your machining requirements to third parties? Or, do you bring all or some of these capabilities in-house?

For many manufacturers it’s not that clear-cut a decision as there are pros and cons associated with each.

Dorchester-based, leading precision subcontract specialist Engineering Control Supplies (ECS) Ltd., has bucked it’s own trend over the last two years.

The company, first established in 1990, used to subcontract out some of its machining requirements to a select number of ‘local’ third party companies.

The good relationships and strong partnerships developed over many years with hand-picked suppliers meant that there were few, if any, issues relating to quality or lead time fulfillment…the usual ‘bug bears’ associated with subcontracting out.

However, the securing of multi million pound long term contracts has changed the situation
radically and dramatically, and over the last two years ECS has invested in ten used machine tools from Bristol-based Machine Tool Sales Online, and two new CNC machines from MACH Machine Tools Ltd., again based in Bristol.

ECS Ltd

ECS is a successful and highly-respected precision manufacturing company, employing 30 staff and offering its domestic and international customers a comprehensive, integrated and in-house design-to-manufacture service that includes concept design, component manufacture (prototypes and one-offs, through to small-to-medium volume batch production), fabrication, assembly and testing.

The company has a subsidiary company on the same site, ECS Special Projects Ltd, - a leading international and innovative engineering design consultancy responsible for the COBRA sub-sea ordnance (mine) neutralisation and disposal system, and the VAL (non-lethal Vessel Arrest Launcher) marine security system that was used for the 2012 Olympic Games for harbour security.

ECS is ISO:9001 certified and operates a Quality Management System fine-tuned specifically for the design, manufacture, refurbishment and supply of mechanical, electro-mechanical, hydraulic and pneumatic equipment for land, sea and air systems…as well as for general engineering and fabrication.

Comments ECS’ Operations Director, Luke Anderson:

“A significant proportion of our work is repeat business and we operate in and across a number of high-technology sectors - aerospace, defence, marine oil and gas etc., where accuracy, reliability and cost-competitiveness are essential.

“Although we had no issues with our previous business model, increasing cost-down pressures facing our customers and long-term agreements (LTA’s) signed with a number of them stipulating that we would contribute to overall cost reductions, meant we had to strategically review our manufacturing operations (from top to bottom), to ensure ECS’ long-term growth and profitability.”

As part of this process, ECS’ existing machining arrangements were put under the spotlight.

Explains Kim Perrin, Director Contracts:

“We knew that being able to satisfy the majority of our machining requirements in-house would make us more flexible…be better able to manage, control and make more efficient our work flow and production scheduling…and strengthen our position in our customers’ value and supply chains.

“With the right balance of machines…we also knew we would be able to reduce costs.”

As any component manufacturer knows building-up in-house machining capacity and capability is complex and multi-faceted involving a number of inter-related issues…and costs. These include:

- Initial CNC machine tool (tools) investment cost as well as ongoing materials, tooling, coolant, work-holding, fixtures and maintenance costs;
- Machine tool programmer and operator costs (i.e. hiring skilled staff and, where appropriate, training them);
- Machine shop organisation issues to maximise floor space and production efficiencies;
- Impact on other areas of manufacture i.e. design (CAD/CAM); inspection etc.

The issue regarding which and what CNC machines to invest in was also less problematic than originally envisioned, partly due to a fortuitous meeting.

Serendipity

Due to protracted lead times for new machines the Directors of ECS Ltd. Decided to invest in a balance of high quality used and new machines.

A chance meeting at the 2014 Southern Manufacturing Show with representatives from Bristol-based Machine Tool Sales Online (MTSO), who were exhibiting at the event, proved to be profitable for both companies.

Remembers Kim Perrin:

“We were looking for a particular manufacturer’s CNC mill and CNC lathe but, having met Dave Andrew from used machine tool specialist MTSO, we discussed the potential of us acquiring two used Haas machines (a machining centre and a lathe), that he (MTSO) would soon have available.”

The two machines - a Haas SL 10 slant bed lathe and a Haas TM 1P vertical machining centre - were ordered at the show and were installed a few weeks later. These were followed up with further investments in used machines from MTSO in subsequent months.

These included a Hardinge GS-200 MSY (multi-tasking lathe), with driven tools, a Y-axis and sub-spindle and a Samsys bar-feeder; a Hardinge Elite 8/51 lathe with sub-spindle, full C-axis capability on both spindles and a bar-feeder; a Hwatcheon Hi-Tech 200B lathe with driven tools and a bar puller, and two Bridgeport vertical machining centres - a XP1000-30, and a XP600.

Continues Kim Perrin:

“We liked MTSO’s approach and their integrity. All the machines we acquired initially and subsequently from them have performed as expected and have helped improve our productivity, performance and profitability.

“We made a conscious decision to invest (when and where appropriate) in multi-tasking machines to help us machine parts in fewer set-ups, reduce cycle times and avoid production bottlenecks.

“The range of high-performance used machines that MTSO has in stock, and the frequency with which the company refreshes and replenishes its stock, invariably means that MTSO always has machines readily available that interest us.”

New directions

The strong relationship forged between ECS and MTSO has seen the former invest in two new CNC machining centres from MACH Machine Tools Ltd - a company originally established by Dave Andrew and now run by directors, Matt Andrew and Marc Bowers.

Explains Luke Anderson:

“We were introduced to MACH Machine Tools by Dave and Matt Andrew in late 2015 and were pleased that the company was run on the same principles as MTSO.

“As part of our investment strategy we were in the market for two, high-rigidity, large capacity, multi-tasking vertical machining centres - and immediately liked the look of the MACH 1020 Linear vertical machining centres.

“These machines, supplied with 4th-axis units, high-performance BT40 10,000rpm spindles (with through spindle coolant capability), a 24-position ATC, and a Fanuc 0i-MD control with extended memory, were available immediately at a cost that was extremely competitive.

“We bought two of the machines and, since being installed, they haven’t missed a beat.”

ECS has also invested in other machine tools and equipment from MACH Machine Tools - most notably a MACH VS-1 turret-type manual milling machine.

Concludes Luke Anderson:

“Bringing our machining capabilities in-house, from virtually a standing start, has paid dividends. We are more productive, more flexible and are better able to control manufacturing costs.

“The importance of developing strong, mutually profitable relationships - first with MTSO and, subsequently with MACH Machine Tools, as part of the in-house investment process, cannot be underestimated.

“We will have a substantial budget to spend on new machines in 2017 and MTSO / MACH Machine Tools will definitely be our first port of call.

“They have been with us all the way and we value their support.”


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