Shops in the UK are in the same boat as those in the States in terms of weathering global competition. A recent visit to England revealed competitive waters that may be a bit choppier than ours, where work is being pulled into Eastern Europe as well as Asia.
In September, GF AgieCharmilles hosted the press in visits to British manufacturers using the company’s five-axis machines and EDM equipment. One shop in particular, the Di-Spark Group, has adopted strategies similar to those that proactive U.S. shops use to set themselves apart from the competition.
The shop is located in Horndean and headed by David Light. In 2000, Mr. Light realized his shop could no longer compete with emerging industrial nations in the production of low-value-added components. So he decided that his company would specialize in manufacturing complex parts from exotic materials. He knew that niche market was best insulated against outsourcing to countries benefiting from a low cost of labor. The sea change began with the addition of a five-axis machine to complement his wire and ram EDM equipment. Some of his other tactics included:
Integrating automation. Due to the limited local source of skilled labor, it was essential to use automation to maximize employee efficiency. Mr. Light doesn’t focus on getting parts across machines faster, but concentrates on minimizing setups and running equipment 24/7. Pallet-style workholding helps in these efforts, because it allows parts to move quickly between EDM, machining centers and CMM.
Approaching machining differently. Mr. Light capitalizes on the strengths of EDM and five-axis machining in devising the most effective way to produce a part. A good example of this is the missile launcher component shown here: www.di-spark.co.uk/amtslideshow.htm. Formerly a milled casting, it is now produced from a billet using nearly equal amounts of wire EDM, ram EDM and milling.
Becoming a sophisticated supplier. Where before the shop had 800 active accounts, it now focuses on far fewer key customers. In addition, Mr. Light has pushed the shop up the supply chain to become more of a partner with customers rather than just another vendor.
One of Mr. Light’s tactics is atypical. All of his shopfloor employees are salaried, making labor costs more controlled and predicable. His employees appreciate such scheduling predictability. After all, there is life outside the shop.