Denroy Plastics is among the real success stories of Northern Ireland aerospace. Family-owned since 1972, it has two main sites and also makes hairbrushes (for which it is world famous) at one of these sites, on a line sitting adjacent to numerous aerospace machine tools. Visiting the site, AIN briefly met chairman John Rainey, who commented he goes “from a hair show to an airshow” every summer. John’s father, Max, founded the company.
John Irwin, general manager, said the company has sales offices in London, Boston (run by Rainey’s daughter Victoria), Johannesburg, and Amsterdam. The group turnover is around £20 million (US$26.5 million), he said. “So we’re still an SME.” Of that turnover, 44 percent is aerospace, 36 percent haircare, and 10 percent the automotive sector. The company has 160 employees, said Irwin. “But the emphasis is on growing aerospace as there are so many opportunities for us.”
He said that this year the company hopes to increase its aerospace (Denroy Plastics) revenue from £9.5 million (US$12.6 million) to £10.5 million (US$13.9 million) and wants to be at £14 million (US$18.6 million) by 2020.
“Essentially we’re a custom molder,” explained Irwin. “And we can take a product through prototyping; we have various partners in Europe and China.” It also has many approvals from aerospace OEMs and suppliers, including Thales, Spirit, Bombardier, and Airbus.
The company is a member of ADS, the UK aerospace trade association, through which it has been following the SC21 supply chain quality program. When AIN visited in May, the company was close to the end of the audit for a Gold SC21 Award, which it hoped to announce at the Farnborough International Airshow. By gaining this, it would be the first in the UK, perhaps jointly with another Northern Ireland aerospace company, Moyola Precision Engineering, which is going for the same standard. The only other company to have achieved the standard is logistics company Wincanton, which is in transportation rather than aerospace, said Irwin. “We started our SC21 journey in 2004, and in 2014 received the Silver Award. We wanted to get to Gold standard consistently before we went for the approval.”
He said OEMs place a lot of pressure on the supply chain to reduce weight, so they can improve fuel efficiency. “Our products are low maintenance, reliable, whole-life products… for example, an inspection cover that replaced a previous aluminum one with one made of the Fortron polymer,” which costs as much as £50,000 (US$66,280) a metric ton, he noted.
Also, Victrex Peek ESD101 is used within the fuel cells in the wings of aircraft such as the C Series airliner, Denroy using it to produce brackets for cables. These have “lots of benefits” including high wear resistance, and also replaced aluminum. “We’re the only company in the world that can mold this for aerospace,” said Irwin, who said the material is “very hard to process.” “They don’t tell us what’s in it though” It costs £100,000 (US$132,568) a metric ton.
Denroy Plastics has 30 injection molding machines, four of which Irwin said have “a clamping force of 900 [metric] tons.” The company also has ISO EN9100 Revision D from the British Standards Institute, and “approvals for direct supply to both Bombardier and Airbus. We are now aiming to qualify as a direct supplier to Boeing, which would probably make us unique in Northern Ireland,” said Irwin. In fact, a Boeing team was due to visit the company in June. “It has taken five or six years,” he added, with Invest NI and the UK DIT also being involved. “We would love to be able to announce that at Farnborough.”
“We’re really proud of getting where we are,” said Irwin, noting that the company supplies 160 parts for Eurofighter, for example. “We’re the only injection-molder that supplies to Eurofighter.” He noted the company is “far more proactive now in promoting our capabilities to Tier 1 manufacturers,” encouraged and assisted by Invest NI. “It’s a buoyant market in aerospace,” said Irwin, who said the company has a “pipeline of innovations” using the TRL (Technology Readiness Level) scale used throughout the sector. “We are involved with GKN on the Wing of Tomorrow,” for example, he said, and the company is “about to be involved” in another project with Spirit AeroSystems and Imperial College London.
He said, also at the Farnborough Airshow, six NI companies would announce a schools build-an-aircraft challenge, for which £25,000 (US$33,142) has been raised so far. “We hope to fly it at Farnborough 2020,” he told AIN.