Tooled up for battle

The Gauge and Toolmakers’ Association (GTMA) World Class Precision Machining profile has stepped up its drive to help UK toolmakers match international competition. The profile, launched this month, aims to push the industry into better shape for the 21st century. It follows the GTMA’s World Class Toolmaker profile, which has gained acceptance as a benchmark […]

The Gauge and Toolmakers’ Association (GTMA) World Class Precision Machining profile has stepped up its drive to help UK toolmakers match international competition. The profile, launched this month, aims to push the industry into better shape for the 21st century.

It follows the GTMA’s World Class Toolmaker profile, which has gained acceptance as a benchmark for mouldmakers. Last year it entered its third edition, with DTI backing.

The World Class Toolmaker profile offers advice in the form of 39 steps to world-class operation, while the Precision Toolmakers profile has been refined to 32 steps.

Mike Dunn, managing director of Portway Tool and Gauge and chairman of the WC toolmaking profile panel, says: ‘In the early 1990s there was a perception that British toolmakers were not serving the needs of major manufacturers.’ So the GTMA put together a set of best-practice standards after visits to different countries and in-depth discussions with UK toolmakers and customers.

Due to the recession, the number of UK toolmakers has shrunk 20% from 1990 to about 2,500 today, and continues to contract because of global competition.

The World Class Toolmakers profile gives global benchmarks against which firms can measure performance, covering management, facilities, procedures, experience (including training needs), organisation and customer service.

As a measure of improved performance, 20 GTMA member companies received special awards last September for successfully completing the World Class Toolmakers’ independent assessment programme, carried out by consultants Moores Rowland and Strategem.

A few companies achieved ratings exceeding 90%, but all felt the need for continual improvement.

Dunn considers the key areas of importance to be: sound management structure; good internal communications; financial strength and performance; up-to-date facilities, with an emphasis on offering a complete package to the customer from initial design through to final tooling try-out; strong training and development programmes; and deep understanding of customer needs.

Dunn recognises that the term ‘world class’ is still open to varying interpretation. ‘There is no global performance benchmark, but we need to set high standards to provide a framework for toolmakers to follow. We are continually revising the document to increase standards. The next stage will consider environmental performance, further health and safety issues and any new developments which need to be addressed.’

Earlier this month, the sister benchmarking document being targeted at precision toolmakers, the GTMA World Class Precision Machining profile, was launched. The new 32-step benchmarking tool, which is backed by the DTI, aims to help precision toolmakers to take up modern best practices and respond to the challenge of continuous improvement.

The new profile was drafted by a panel headed by Tim Godolphin of Claro Precision, and is targeted to suit the different demands on the precision tool-makers which supply a range of products for industries from aerospace to instrumentation and electronics. Mouldmakers, in contrast, produce tools, moulds and jigs that are more project specific, which is reflected in the Toolmaker profile.

Godolphin believes many toolmakers concentrate on product quality and new technology investment, ‘but they don’t seem to be rigorous enough on business, organisation, financial issues or marketing.

‘That’s where the new benchmarking system should have a significant impact. If a company doesn’t adopt a world-class approach to business, it has considerably less chance of weathering any upcoming recession.’

The Precision Machining profile offers 32 steps for internal or independent assessment, under the headings of management, facilities, procedures, staff development and marketing. Two pilot assessments have been carried out recently by consultants including Loughborough-based Steelcraft (see below).

Independent assessor Dave Wright of Strategem says the profiles provide a clearer focus on the improvement activities across the scope of a business.

‘Typically toolmakers are very good at techniques and technology, but need to tackle business issues better. The profiles takes a holistic view of the business, helping the toolmaker focus on issues that haven’t previously been addressed.’

Assessment takes about a day, ideally involving a cross-section of management.

Wright says: ‘The world-class profile provides a best-practice model, rather than simply a blueprint for who is top of the pops. The few who excel are those who are aware they need to be an effective business rather than just a good toolmaker.’

Assessor Andrew Gibbons of Moores Rowland agrees that most toolmakers are well set up for conventional procedures and well versed in techniques and inspection.

‘But there is considerable scope for improvement in business planning,’ he adds. ‘Many companies need to look at the bigger picture, strategic issues, future markets and key areas for investment because of the rapidly changing business environment. Both the profiles have an important role to play in gaining competitive advantage on a global scale.’

GTMA members and non-members can use the World Class profiles on a self assessment basis or can opt for an independent assessment carried out by Moores Rowland or Strategem, which will cost £425 for GTMA members and £550 for non-members.

About 100 toolmakers are using the World Class Toolmaker profile, and 25 have been assessed independently.

The GTMA has also set up a technical consultancy service, which offers free advice to members, who will be able to draw on an extensive database of contacts, facilities, generic products and expertise, with an emphasis on the use of the latest IT techniques.

The Tooling Technologies Group is chaired by Roger Onions, UK sales director of CAD/CAM supplier Delcam. It aims to strengthen links between toolmaking suppliers and GTMA members, and there are plans to create a CD-ROM and web site soon.

Looking at tooling technology trends, Onions suggests: ‘There is increasing adoption of rapid tooling techniques using faster cutting methods and improved software to control the job. High-speed machining is moving up a notch from typical spindle speeds of 15,000rpm to 20,000rpm plus, and controllers that can handle B-splines or nurbs.

‘New inspection packages enable parameters to be inspected closely against CAD/CAM models. A new generation of PCs from Hewlett Packard and Silicon Graphics offer better and quicker graphics which enable toolmakers to spin a full-shaded CAD model.’