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Investment and WNT (UK) expertise paves the way to success for SPE


Technical support at the machine from WNT has delivered significant productivity gains at SPE Ltd.

Major investment in machine tools has taken place at SPE Ltd

WNT tools are available 24 hours a day via the Tool-o-Mat vending service units

With over 30 years of steady, managed growth under its belt Staffordshire Precision Engineering had expanded to such an extent that its manufacturing was spread over three separate buildings in Stoke on Trent, so, when in 2014 the new premises in nearby Newcastle under Lyme became available, brothers Gary and Phil Smith took the decision to relocate under one roof. Following an extensive refurbishment of the building they moved lock, stock and barrel in January 2015. This was the start of a new chapter in the business that would see it develop, both in size and diversity of customer.

With Gary and Phil now heading the business, started by their father Stan back in 1981, the relocation provided a perfect opportunity to restructure the business. In addition to the £1,250,000 cost of the building, refurbishment and relocation, partly supported by a Regional Development Grant, the company also invested in new machine tools, spending £900,000 to bring its total number of machines to 50 with the addition of two Mazak CNC lathes, a Star sliding head lathe and two Mazak five-axis machining centres, including a 3 metre bed Mazak VTC 800. This new capacity helped with the existing markets that SPE Ltd worked in, such as aerospace, where it is AS9100 approved and the scientific and medical equipment sector, where it focusses on lower volume, high value speciality engineering. The larger capacity also created opportunities in the automotive arena, where it is now a Tier One supplier to two prestigious car manufacturers. Since the relocation turnover has grown to £3.7 million, an increase of 20 per cent and it has been recognised as the Manufacturer of the Year 2016 by the Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce.

“This was a serious investment, but one that started to pay off almost immediately. The additional capacity of the 3 metre machining centre opened up new doors for us, we have never had a machine that has brought in so much work, such that it is now at capacity and a second machine will be ordered in the very near future. The investment we made wasn’t just about buildings and machines, though,” says Gary Smith. The move gave SPE Ltd the platform to win new business, which has come from the automotive and motorsport sectors, where it counts two Formula One teams among its customers. This new business brought new demands as materials such as carbon fibre and titanium became regular projects for machining. “While we have a highly skilled workforce, enhanced by our apprentice scheme which has produced 50 per cent of our workforce and our first apprentice is still with us after 34 years; we recognised that we needed to bring in new ideas in order to maximise the better workflow and working environment that we now have.”

One of those changes was the appointment of Lee Sambrook as Technical Director, who was given the brief of improving OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) develop processes and streamline manufacturing. Tooling was a major part of that responsibility and Lee called on WNT (UK), who he had worked closely with before to assist in reducing overall tooling costs and improving metalcutting performance. “In my previous experience with WNT I was confident that they were a leader in the machining of titanium and stainless steel and we have worked together on specific components and projects and overall we are seeing a 35 per cent improvement in productivity on these materials in general, in some cases this is as high as 80 per cent,” says Lee Sambrook. Assisting with this are WNT Application Sales Engineer Steve Warner, who spends one day a week at SPE Ltd and Technical Sales Engineer Derrick Jones who helps oversee the consignment stock of tooling in the two WNT Tool-o-Mat vending service machines.

Prior to Lee joining SPE Ltd, it had around 15 different tooling suppliers now, with the technical support that it is receiving from WNT and the regular visits from Steve and Derrick to look at process improvement, it is standardising all tooling to WNT and managing tools using the Tool-o-Mat vending service. “The vending and consignment stock is a significant advantage when it comes to component lead times, we can be machining parts within an hour of the program being written as stock is constantly monitored and updated, allowing it to evolve with the projects that we get involved with,” says Lee Sambrook. “Operating 24 hour a day, five days a week we need to know that tools will be available when we need them and with Tool-o-Mat vending service we never have any issues. We can also monitor tool costs through our systems and allocate costs to jobs.”

WNT’s involvement with SPE Ltd goes beyond providing technical support and new tooling, it also provides a regrind service on its solid carbide tooling and from the beginning of 2017 will also handle the recycling o fall of its indexable insert carbide. In conclusion Lee Sambrook adds: “Reducing our tooling supplier list from 15 down to effectively one, with WNT (UK), has streamlined our activities and delivered significant efficiencies to the business. The ongoing technical support is also a major factor in us winning new business as we are confident that the cycle times we are quoting are achievable and highly competitive.”