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A medical emergency – not for this company

Focusing on highly complex and high value added pressure and gravity diecastings, from concept design through to fully machined and finished components, helped MRT Castings Ltd expand its business by a staggering 70 per cent increase in income in 2015.
The level of growth was forced on the UK-based aluminium and zinc diecaster after an initial enquiry from a US medical company expanded into ongoing orders for 19 different highly complex components. The enquiry - which remained dormant for some time awaiting US medical standards approval - suddenly got the green light and thanks to the tenacity and skillset of MRT’s employees, customer quality and delivery expectations were met much to the relief of MRT’s managing director Phil Rawnson.
“We were confident after pitching for the job and set about expanding capacity to enable us to fulfil requirements,” he said. “Then we pulled in other jobs to fill the capacity whilst awaiting the go ahead. Of course for the medical sector we discovered there are often long periods before the customer has approval. Then it was all systems go overnight and we had this new customer plus our existing ones to satisfy.”

Managing growth
Rawnson describes the response as “massively scaling up” capacity, quality and standards, thus thrusting MRT into a swift and steep growth period that needed careful management and a brave attitude. 
“We knuckled down, found efficiencies, doubled output but only increased head count by ten per cent,” Rawnson told Foundry Trade Journal. Part of the “scale up” was a one and a half million pound investment in equipment and an expansion into two more units on the industrial site where the company has been based in Andover, on the south coast, since 1965 when it relocated from its London base where Rawnson’s grandfather established the company.
Notably, the growth was in income not tonnage and much of the increase has been realised by added value activities such as machining after MRT recognised the balance of work was changing.
The key to the investment was flexibility so machines were standardised and the company’s engineers became multiskilled. Fully automated diecasting cells enable a multitude of different jobs to be undertaken on the same machines in 500-1,000 batches at a time. 

Machining the future
MRT has a machine shop to rival any other company and machines 90 per cent of the components cast there. With 20 machining centres, the company is one of the largest single site users of Brother machines in Europe and has also added an additional ten CNCs in the last two years.
Utilising twin pallet loading, cutting can be carried out on one component whilst the other is being loaded offering a more efficient and time saving method of working. Components can be machined up to 1m.
Rapid tool changing, online probing, high speed rotary tables and off-line programming minimise production cycles. 

Casting conversions
MRT’s bread and butter work is low to medium volume and both tooling costs and lead times have reduced in this area so pressure diecasting is a competitive option. Casting weight range is 5g to 5kg. What Rawnson is most proud of is that much of the work MRT competes for is against machined from solid or plastics. As such the company has become an example of what diecasting can achieve. Working closely with customers, MRT can show how cast components can accomplish what other processes can’t or show how castings can offer improved cost competitiveness, reliability and performance.
In 2015, MRT’s “remarkable” year of growth into new markets and significant investment programme was recognised by the wider industry when it picked up the Company Achievement Award at the ‘Best of British Casting’ CMF Awards. 
Melting is via gas-fired furnaces with recuperative burners re-heating the gas. Hourly energy consumption screens are displayed on the wall by the furnaces encouraging the workforce to be fully aware of energy usage and helping them to manage costs.
Although robotic ladling, die spray and casting extraction is usually associated with high volume pressure diecasting, MRT uses it even for small batch production because it enables both control and consistency. With 600-700 different active parts consistency is fundamental to running an efficient and a competitive business. In terms of the gravity diecasting foundry, this area has been automated as much as is sensibly possible.
Of particular note is the investment in a Koyama cutting and grinding machine supplied by PS Autogrinding - only the second one of its kind installed in a UK aluminium foundry. The machine offers improved speed, working conditions and clear safety benefits.

One-stop shop a reality
One of the largest changes at the ISO9001:2008 accredited company has been the expansion to provide fully assembled cast components ready for customers’ production lines. By narrowing the number of subcontractors MRT reduces the frustration and element of risk often shouldered by buyers. 
“It is promising when designers speak to us early enough in the concept stage so we can work with them to achieve considerable cost savings,” Rawnson said. “Our in-house software and highly trained engineers can optimise designs for production.”
The company is also experienced at working within an approved supplier and sub-contractor chain thus can provide castings produced by other processes not within the apparent scope of MRT.
As most of the growth can be attributed to export orders, MRT now has a proven track record in this area, with export accounting for 56 per cent of its current work.
Although he is known for this enthusiasm and forward thinking approach even Rawnson admits the journey the company has been on in the past two years was adventurous. “It was a challenge but it forced us to enter a different league,” he says. “Everyone is in the right mindset. We’ve always been a bit of a niche company so we are open to new things. We have doubled capacity but we are now able to meet demand so we are well placed for the future.”
Contact: Phil Rawnson, MRT Castings Ltd, Tel: +44 (0) 1264 324021, email: general@mrt-castings.co.uk web: www.mrt-castings.co.uk