Shannon Coiled Springs recognised that traditional markets such as construction were in decline, so it took advantage of its existing engineering expertise in coiled spring manufacture and diversified into the growth area of medical devices

Shannon Coiled Springs (SCS) was chosen as a case study for the Forfás Making it in Ireland – Manufacturing 2020 project because of the company’s strategy of diversifying from its base in construction products to identifying new market opportunities and technologies in the medical devices field.

SCS is based in Limerick and was founded in 1978 to supply the construction sector, manufacturing wall ties and springs. The company had gained some 60-70% of the construction market for wall ties in Ireland, but recognised that construction was a cyclical market and that demographic trends meant that this market was not sustainable.

“As a consequence, we decided to develop a strategy to search for alternative markets and product,” said managing director, John Walsh. “We worked in collaboration with the University of Limerick on a collaborative project, which led us to the medical devices field. We employ around 80 people but, in 2010, we had a turnover of €6.5 million, which was about half the turnover of 2007.”

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Shannon Coiled Springs specialises in the manufacture of wire shapes and springs. It has its headquarters in Limerick and a subsidiary in the UK, in Lytham St Ann’s. The company’s original market was predominantly in wall ties for the construction sector and the manufacture of various types of springs for the dairy industry. These products were manufactured from round wire at a thickness of 0.20mm, using both manual coilers and automatic coiling and wire-forming machines.

SCS’s Performance Spring Ltd division manufactures a wide variety of specialty engine-valve springs. It has ISO/TS16949/QS9000 certification and it was also awarded Overall Company of the Year and Trade Company of the Year in the UK’s Northwest Automotive Alliance Awards for 2012.

“Micro components for medical devices were also part of Shannon Coiled Spring’s product range – but strict standards and regulations, together with differing market characteristics, were restricting our development in the medical devices field,” explained Walsh.


Resistance welding

In 2004, the company started a project with the University of Limerick to develop new processes and subsequently achieved ISO13485 accreditation (the international standard for medical device quality assurance).

In 2005, SCS set up a specialist division, Shannon MicroCoil, investing some €1.5 million to develop the medical devices business. Since this time, the division has developed a growing business in manufacturing micro-springs and coils for the medical industry in areas such as neurostimulation, cardiac-rhythm management and minimally invasive procedures.

The company provides both standardised and custom products for these markets and specialises in supplying to the research and development areas in multinational companies and specialty medical design companies, providing a quick turnaround from order to delivery.

Micro-components for the medical devices sector are produced using mainly stainless steel wires with diameters from 12.5 microns to 254 microns (one micron or micrometre is ten to the minus six metres) in a variety of pitches and diameters. These micro-coils are used mainly for reinforcing a range of tubing used in medical products around the world with exports to the US and Germany.

A large amount of unusual materials are also used for the manufacture of micro-coils, including gold, platinum and nitinol, in particular. These materials (which display radiopaque characteristics) are important for non-invasive surgery, where there is a need for accurate tracing to enable surgeons to position devices accurately within the body.

“We have also developed a wide variety of medical-grade, stainless steel tubing capability, cannulas with specialist welding and tube cutting, and also mandrels in standard design and mandrels in round and shaped profile, which have led the market,” said Walsh. “In addition, a further new division was established in the past three years for the repair and supply of flexible and ridged endoscopes for which we became the first in Ireland to achieve ISO13485 certification, leading to the unique feature of us having two separate ISO13485 accreditations.”


Microcoiling machine

The company has developed these new products and markets in areas of adjacent capabilities where it could bring existing skills and knowledge to bear (adjacent possibilities). For example, when Shannon Coiled Springs entered the medical micro-coiling sector, it brought 28 years of experience of growth in the coiling industry and approached development issues from an engineering perspective, rather than a medical perspective. This allowed it to develop a range of new products and services for the medical sector and to manufacture these efficiently. In particular, the company’s services for the medical sector include:

  • Assessing requirements such as material specifications;
  • Regulatory processes;
  • Validation and documentation;
  • Prototype development and testing;
  • Production process such as welding, microcoiling, grinding and wire forming.

During 2011, SCS also introduced a range of polytetrafluoroethylene- coated wire products, which brings characteristics such as anti-stick, non-flaking, close tolerances, chemically inert, abrasion resistance, bio-compatibility, chemical and corrosion resistance. In the same year, Shannon MicroCoil launched a new Integra TM range of medical shaft-reinforcement coils.

The medical devices business has grown and is expected to be close to 50% of the company’s business in 2012, with further doubling of the medical devices business over the next two or three years. Shannon MicroCoil now occupies a 25,000 square feet building on a five-acre site and employs 24 staff in Ireland and 56 in the UK.

Summing up the company’s experience, Walsh said, “Our programme for the future is ambitious and bold and, relying on our past record, we’re quietly confident we will firstly achieve a return to the heights we achieved in our past and surpass it in the very near future in our new endeavours.”

He acknowledged the help received from Enterprise Ireland, Ulster Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland in stabilising the company and taking it forward. “They’ve been brilliant in understanding firstly our dilemma at the time of the markets crashing worldwide and in getting us over the very big hurdle we faced in re-organising the company.”


John Walsh, MD

The experience of Shannon Coiled Springs illustrates the importance of recognising that traditional markets such as construction are often subject to decline and that continuing success may require the development of new growth market areas, such as medical devices, which have international growth potential.

Whilst the market for medical devices was relatively new to the company, the development of medical coiled springs, an area of adjacent capabilities, allowed them to make maximum advantage of their existing considerable engineering expertise in the field of coiled spring manufacture.

However, entering a new field such as medical devices required sustained technical and market investment over many years and an important part of the company’s development involved collaboration with the University of Limerick for the development of new products and accreditation.

Shannon Coiled Springs had to set up a separate division to develop the new micro-coiling technologies with much smaller diameters, work with new materials such as stainless steel, gold, platinum, nitinol and polytetrafluoroethylene and seek internationally recognised accreditations such as ISO 13485 in manufacturing of components in all of the previously mentioned materials and (recognised as meeting medical device quality standards).

“Overall, the development of the new division required an investment of one and a half million euro to achieve success,” Walsh concluded. “These strategic developments have put us into a stronger position and we aim to compete and grow in new markets in the future.” O'RiordanBioconstruction,Limerick,medical devices,UL
Shannon Coiled Springs (SCS) was chosen as a case study for the Forfás Making it in Ireland – Manufacturing 2020 project because of the company’s strategy of diversifying from its base in construction products to identifying new market opportunities and technologies in the medical devices field. SCS is based in Limerick and...