Digital switch to boost production for Ayrshire engineering business

08/09/2023
Daniele Marini (NMIS) and Mark McKell (Omnitool)

IRVINE-based Omnitool – a family-run precision engineering business working in the oil and gas, renewables and nuclear sectors – is boosting its production capacity and plans to expand into new markets, create new jobs and cut emissions, following the introduction of new digital tools and expertise.

With £188,000 funding support from Innovate UK, Omnitool is working with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) – operated by the University of Strathclyde and part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) – to develop the skills required to implement its digital upgrade. The business hopes that the move will see machine idle time cut in half and production capacity increased by 10%.

Omnitool has one of the most technically capable machining facilities in the UK. It recently invested over £2.5m in advanced multi-axis computer numerical control (CNC) machine tools to produce technically challenging, high-value products for a range of applications, such as aerospace and energy industries.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership – a collaborative project involving the business, NMIS experts and a qualified graduate – will see Omnitool implement offline programming techniques and train employees on coding skills, with a new digital manufacturing lead now being recruited by the company to help scale up the company’s automation initiatives.

Omnitool’s engineers will also use digital twins, computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) to program machines offline – using simulations to prepare tool patterns outside of the machine to minimise disruption and boost efficiency.

The project follows on from capability and process mapping activities completed by NMIS as part of the Advanced Manufacturing Challenge Fund’s Supply Chain Aerospace programme last year.

Mark McKell, operations director at Omnitool, said: “We have noticed a growing demand for our high-quality, complex machined components and want to ensure production is as efficient as possible. The previous online programming approach meant there was significant idle time while the machines were being set up, but this project allowed us to adopt a high-tech digital approach. 

“The increased capacity will enable us to grow the business and target new sectors, such as aerospace. We’ll be using the new strategy to transform our entire manufacturing processes in the years ahead.”

Over the next three years, Omnitool hopes to gain the skills required across the company to introduce the new digital approach across 90% of its production centres and anticipates 10 new roles will be created as a result. As well as boosting capacity, the switch to offline programming will also have sustainable benefits for the company, helping to reduce waste and cut emissions by up to 12 tonnes of CO2e per year. 

Processes and guidelines developed throughout the project will be made available for other manufacturing businesses, with transferrable instructions to help others with the knowledge and skills required. Adoption of digital processes, particularly among smaller and growing businesses in manufacturing, is typically low due to the high levels of complexity, cost, and risk involved.

Daniele Marini, supply chain and operational transformation lead at the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), added: “The integration of offline programming in a traditional industrial setting can bring significant improvements in performance and efficiency, but also poses challenges for smaller companies. Omnitool has embraced the opportunity to integrate new digital processes and, by sharing the results of its transformation, alongside how-to guidelines, we hope to inspire other manufacturing businesses to unlock additional capacity in a similar way.”

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