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Dawnlough capitalises on the aerospace sector


WNT works closely with Dawnlough to develop machining processes and provide ongoing technical support

Dawnlough has invested heavily in modern machine tool technology, including several five-axis machining centres with pallet loading

With just eight employees and one CNC machine, Dawnlough Ltd started in 1987 as a small toolmaking business servicing the electrical and medical engineering sectors in the west of Ireland. Moving forward 30 years it is now a leading subcontract manufacturer with a focus on the growing aerospace sector within the Republic of Ireland.

Occupying what will be a 50,000ft2 facility [once the planned extension is complete in 2018] the company now has a capacity list of over 30 CNC machine tools, including multiple five-axis robotic pallet loaded machining centres. Employee numbers also stand at 75, of which 32 are designated as programmers, with Dawnlough’s machine setters/operators programing everything at the machine. Operating in this way adds responsibility to individuals and also removes what managing director Brian McKeon describes as ‘the disconnect’ between a CAM programmer sitting in an office and the shopfloor. Dawnlough has also invested heavily in design capability, providing a turnkey design solution for the medical and tooling side of the business and also the ability to work with aerospace customers, providing design for manufacturing advice.

The focus on aerospace came after Galway-based Dawnlough acted as a third tier supplier machining components for premium aircraft seats, this led to the company being awarded more work in the aircraft seating sector. “This business grew quickly, but we soon faced price pressure from competitors in low cost economies,” says Brian McKeon. “We therefore took the decision to look at other areas of the aerospace sector that involved higher precision, flight critical, components. This led to the opportunity to work directly for Bombardier machining of flap actuation parts and other wing assembly components, as well as some engine mounts.” The success of these projects, particularly the quality of work and on-time delivery, led Bombardier to sponsor Dawnlough through the SC21 Bronze award in 2016, with the Silver award targeted for 2018. In addition to SC21, Dawnlough is one of only two companies in the Republic of Ireland with accreditation for aerospace assemblies. The company also has ISO9001:2008 and ISO 13485 and AS9100D for quality management, the latter being aerospace specific.

“We recognised that to achieve the projected growth rate we will have to focus our growth plans on the aerospace sector. Our skills set gained from the medical device business is complimentary in terms of precision and consistency, which gives us an advantage,” says Brian McKeon. “Our ambition is then to increase the number of skilled employees an take our total number of people to around 120, and further maximise the use of automation to complement our existing robotic pallet loading/job queuing systems.”

In preparation for this growth Dawnlough is working with its long-term tooling supplier WNT, with both companies growing their business together. The speed of growth meant that tooling costs increased, so vending systems have been introduced to manage tool usage. These generate detailed reports that highlight what tools have been used on what jobs, by specific operators. Working with WNT’s Applications Sales Engineer, Shane O’Donnell and Technical Sales Engineer Jerry Warren, Dawnlough is developing machining processes to get cutting tools operating at their maximum capability. As business develops any new projects are looked at as a matter of course in order to minimise cycle times, extend tool life and, manage tooling costs.

“Job costing is a vital element of our business and while we have always been able to be specific on machine and time, tooling was often a grey area. With the support from WNT, along with the reporting that we can access from the vending machines, we are now able to break down tooling costs very specifically, with any issues being flagged up immediately. In business it is the little things that make a difference and the support we get from WNT in terms of the consignment stock in the vendors, next day delivery on the 20 per cent of tooling that we don’t hold, the regrind service and the technical support, all adds up.

To further raise the profile of the growing capability for aerospace machining in Ireland the Emerald Aerospace Consortium was created, of which Dawnlough is a founder member. This consortium of like-minded businesses is promoting their expertise to a wider audience. Unlike other ‘aerospace alliances’ Emerald Aerospace works as the point of contact for the member companies, with a business development manager seeking out new opportunities. Members then decide who between them is best placed to manage the contract. The end customer will then have just one point of contact for orders and invoicing, simplifying the process and bringing added benefits of a wider range of manufacturing processes to bear.