In 1984, Oglesby & Butler developed the world’s first pocket portable soldering iron, giving engineers the freedom to solder joints in the field without the need to plug-in to electrical outlets. This brought about the birth of the Portasol brand, global expansion and the subsequent requirement for sliding head lathes from Star Micronics GB.
When the Portasol brand was in its infancy in the 1980s, the company was primarily assembling, packing and distributing its products; relying wholly on a subcontract supply chain. The considerable costs and performance of suppliers pushed the Carlow Company near Kilkenny to firstly buy plastic moulding machines that were soon followed by CAM auto turning centres for production turning of pins, caps, clips, end caps and tanks. However, the Engineering Manager at Portasol, Mr Mike Griffin had a vision of introducing CNC technology as a potential replacement of CAM Autos and a trip to MACH 1992 changed everything for the Southern Ireland business.
Twenty years after visiting MACH and buying the first Star GB CNC sliding head lathe, an SR-20; the instigator of this change, Mr Mike Griffin is still buying Star machines with the latest addition, an SR-20RIV Type B arriving in June. Recalling the start of the 25 plus year journey of success with Star GB, Engineering Manager, Mr Griffin says: “We bought 8 second hand CAM Autos that were running 15 to 20 different copper and brass parts in series runs of 20,000 to 30,000. At the time, the CAM Autos were more productive than CNC sliders but they had to be continually manned and had excessive set-up times. We gradually gained the confidence to run the first Star SR-20 lights-out, which made it more productive than the CAM Auto alternative. Additionally, we eliminated secondary operations as the Star had the flexibility to conduct cross drilling, threading and milling. This flexibility also meant the first Star SR-20 was also used as an R&D machine. Remarkably, that first Star SR-20 is still on the shop floor, running 24/7 after 25 years. It has now clocked up approximately 200,000 hours of production producing well in excess of 15,000,000 and is as reliable as it was on day one.”
The first Star SR-20 was followed by a second machine within 12 months. The CAM Autos were soon wiped out and the 100 employee company now has 9 Star machines that include an SW7, a 12mm capacity SV, three SR-20 RIII machines and the latest SR-20RIV Type B machine. Over the last 25 years, each machine has been specified for a specific need with the SW-7 selected for particularly small parts up to 7mm diameter, the SV-12 was selected for complex parts up to 12mm whilst the latest SR-20RIV Type B was picked for its ability to conduct cross drilling and milling at angles.
Looking down the decades, Mr Griffin continues: “Sliding head lathes aren’t always associated with flexibility, but the Star machines have been phenomenal for our business. The early machines gave our design department the first real opportunity to incorporate design for manufacture. We went beyond the benefit of reducing subcontract costs, controlling processes and quality by bringing work in-house; the capability of our Star machines gave our engineers the ability to re-design the internal workings of our patented technology. This on-going process has reduced the number of components and the subsequent assembly processes and times.”
The design for manufacture capability, the reduced stock-holding and lead-times, the improved productivity and component quality are just a few of the many benefits that Oglesby & Butler has witnessed since it started buying Star GB sliding head lathes. As Mr Griffin continues: “Our product portfolio has expanded exponentially with hundreds of variations of different product lines. From a manufacturing perspective, this means we have to continually look at methods of how to remain flexible, efficient and above all productive. Star has certainly helped us along this path. The newer machines are at least 30-40% more productive than our first 25 year old SR-20 that still churns out parts all day long.”
Looking at the benefit of the latest Star addition, Mr Griffin says: “The SR-20RIV Type B has a B axis that can work in conjunction with X, Y and Z1 and/or X, Y and Z2 axis that allows both cross working and front facing power tools to be mounted in any station. Also having the ability to drill and mill at any programmable angles on both main and sub spindles has eliminated secondary operations on many parts. On one aluminium component that is produced in regular batches of 4000 to 5000, the SR-20RIV Type B has completely eliminated secondary operation drilling and threading. Previously, this secondary operation would require a full week of labour and machine time. The new Star is saving this labour requirement and giving us added machine capacity, and that is just one component type.”
“In essence, Star has been a brand we can fully rely upon and trust. The innovation and technology has always been industry leading and the support and service we’ve received has been exemplary. The reliability of the Star machines is demonstrated by the 25 year old machine that we still run around the clock. As a result of all these aspects, we have a fabulous relationship with Star GB and we couldn’t be happier with a machine tool supplier,” concludes Mr Griffin.