These are turbulent and unpredictable times for UK component manufacturers - especially as far as the wider global economic climate is concerned.
Few, if any, would hazard a guess as to the what the economic landscape will look like after Brexit, and whether or how long the UK will remain in a Customs Union of sorts.
This uncertainty, and let’s remember that businesses dislike uncertainty, has been added to recently with rumours and talks of trade wars and tariffs.
It’s a worrying situation that has led IMF Managing Director, Christine Legarde to comment; “The clouds on the horizon ... are getting darker by the day.”
It’s against this backdrop that UK manufacturers operate and some, clearly, are succeeding (and will succeed) better than others.
Those that rely purely on the market may well struggle - whereas companies that embrace change and are committed to implementing strategic continuous improvement programmes across their businesses will have more control over their destinies.
Once such company that, ever since its creation, has opted to take matters into its own hands and be the architect of its own future is Portsmouth-based, Di-Spark Ltd.
Leading precision manufacturing subcontract specialist Di-Spark Ltd was established in 1980. Over the last 38 years the company has undergone and experienced significant change.
In the early days the company’s focus was on toolmaking and pioneered the use and application of (Wire) EDM technology to manufacture press tools for the printed circuit board industry.
Fast forward to today and Di-Spark is virtually unrecognisable from what (and where) it was previously.
The company, focusing on prototype, one-offs and small batch production, now offers a comprehensive range of advanced CNC machining services - i.e. 5-axis machining, multi-axis milling and turning, specialist machining of large precision parts and EDM (wire and sink) machining to its impressive domestic and overseas customer base.
Di-Spark has also significantly changed its sector and industry focus too and, today, manufactures high-precision complex parts for a number of highly-regulated industry sectors i.e. aerospace, defence, space, oil and gas and motorsport where ‘right first time’ is not so much an ambition but more a daily imperative.
Unlike many UK subcontractors Di-Spark, through its investment in the latest advanced machining technologies coupled with an unswerving commitment to delivering quality components, reducing lead times and improving operational efficiencies across the board, occupies pivotal and preferred partner positions in many of its customers’ supply chains.
The company’s manufacturing skills, experience and prowess are further evidenced by its recent AS91000 Revision D certification.
Comments Managing Director, David Light:
“If you’re not constantly moving forwards - the chances are that you’re going backwards.
“The manufacturing environment is dynamic. It is constantly evolving and changing. In my experience companies that are unable or are unwilling to change have limited prospects. Fortunately we are not in that position.”
Integral to Di-Spark’s growth and success is its investment in advanced, high-productivity machine tool technologies. The company has built strong relationships over the years with GF Machining Solutions and regularly invests in the company’s Mikron (5-axis) machining centres and AgieCharmilles wire and sink EDM machines.
(Earlier this year the company invested in two Mikron HPM 450U machining centres and an AgieCharmilles CUT P 300 wire EDM machine).
Explains David Light:
“We operate 24/7 and do everything in our power to improve productivity and eliminate inefficiencies.
“The HPM 450U 5-axis machines help us achieve both. The machines give us proven simultaneous 5-axis machining performance and, with their integrated automatic pallet changers and generous-sized automatic tool changers, enable us to run the machines unmanned.
These advantages coupled with the machines’ ability to reduce set-up times and machine complex parts in ‘one hit’ further increase our productivity and improve our machining flexibility.”
Di-Spark’s investment in the new Mikron HPM 450U machines reflects an increasing demand amongst customers for its high-level milling capabilities.
Continues David Light:
“We were, and are still, experiencing tremendous organic growth especially from customers who need access to our proven, reliable and cost-competitive (milling) machining capabilities.
“Our machine tool investment strategy based on acquiring new, state-of-the-art technology instead of merely replacing existing machines with like-for-like technology, continues to pay dividends.
“This year, for example, we were able to ‘win-back’ pre-production and production work from an aerospace customer who had initially placed a machining contract in India only to find that they were soon experiencing quality and lead time issues.
“Having sophisticated 5-axis machine tool capacity at our disposal enabled us to ‘win’ back this work and provide a world-class machining solution for the customer.”
Over the last couple of years demand for Di-Spark’s EDM machining services has remained fairly static. However, despite day-to-day market volatility in oil and gas prices, the sector has seen an upturn in recent months and this ‘modest’ resurgence led one of Di-Spark’s existing customers to recently ramp up production of its downhole equipment.
“To cope with this unexpected demand we moved quickly”, explains David Light.
“We needed additional wire EDM capacity and invested in a new AgieCharmilles CUT P 300 which is equipped with a whole new host of innovative and time-saving technologies - all designed to increase part accuracies, reduce cycle times and improve process reliability.”
Di-Sparks’ machine tool investment programme is part of the company’s wider three year Business Plan. In some years this means that the company will not make any new machine tool acquisitions. In other years investments will be made.
When new 5-axis and/or wire and spark erosion capability is required - Di-Spark makes GF Machining Solutions its first port of call.
Concludes David Light:
“We rely on GF Machining Solutions machine tools, and value the company’s applications and technical support. Our Mikron 5-axis machines and our AgieCharmilles EDM machines have been, and continue to be, instrumental in us maintaining and reinforcing our world-class position.”