The cutting edge

Posted on 9 Apr 2011 by The Manufacturer

For the last 18 years, Mapal UK has provided the very latest in innovative new tooling to the automotive industry. Now, the company is looking to do the same for aerospace. Mark Young reports

The managing director of Mapal UK’s business, John Claypole, says the company’s continual investment in innovation over the years – with a commitment to channel 10% of turnover back into R&D every year – has helped to revolutionise processes within the industries it serves time and time again.

Producing polycrystalline diamond (PCD) and carbide cutting tools, including drills, reamers and fine boring equipment, the Mapal Group, headquartered in Germany, operates worldwide and has global revenues totalling some £400m. Claypole founded the UK branch in 1993 as a Mapal Group company to serve the UK market. With an initial team of nine the company achieved its start up objectives in its very first year and has been ever since. A move to its own freehold manufacturing site in Rugby was completed in 2001 and there the company now employs 50 people, including seven of the original nine. Last year it turned over £7m.

The company, according to Claypole, offers a full cradleto- grave service with its own design, manufacture, sales and after service teams. For new tools, the company has carved a niche in designing and producing bespoke tools for specific customer processes; only a fifth of its sales are “off the shelf” products. Repairing and regrinding is also a big part of the business, accounting for around 70% of workflow for the UK site. The most important thing for us is that we are able to service our own products. That’s key because it gives us the regular business to keep our business ticking over and we are able to reinvest into the new product lines and our people, machines and processes,” says Claypole Mapal UK predominantly serves the automotive industry and counts most of the large automotive manufacturers plus a large number of major sub-contractors among its customers. In the last two years it has began to branch out into aerospace, where it has already won a contract with a large UK manufacturer. This has been made possible by a decision some years ago by the group to focus on composite materials. The company envisaged that one day materials will be used in high-volume car manufacture, and Mapal will have an enviable blend of capability and network to take full advantage of the development when it happens.

First with its Guide-Pad technology – a revolutionary system for supporting the blade in a cutting tool – and now with the state of the art PCD tools, Claypole says the company has been a “leading light” in the introduction of new innovative tools which have allowed its customers to work quicker, with more precision and to a better quality than ever before. All the developments have been driven by customer demands as they also face changing situations in technology and skills.

Being a small organisation also helps Mapal UK to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of its customers, Claypole contends. “We are equipped to be able to complete a specialist task,” he says, “and over the years we have developed a mindset to do this, we can just walk it through; we’re much more in control.” Mapal UK has invested in machinery in the UK to serve the requirements of its customers. The most important detail is quality and processes and equipment and have been mirrored wherever possible from our parent company.

An internal affair
Mapal UK didn’t lose one member of staff throughout the downturn. “Our utmost priority was keeping hold of our employees,” says Claypole. “Not only because we have a strong sense of duty towards looking after our people but also because the skills to operate our machines are very specialist. Our guys are very skilled at what they do.” Instead the company went onto short working and management took pay cuts. “It still wasn’t easy,” adds Claypole, “but we had to make sacrifices in order to do the right thing by everyone. Without these measures we would have had to make 25% of the workforce redundant, it’s as simple as that”. The company is now operating its usual work patterns and overtime as business has now returned to pre-2008 levels.

Claypole has an ambitious target to reach £10m over the next three years. But a rapidly growing product portfolio to extend sales within the current customer range and the foray into aerospace makes that a very realistic aim.

He says, “With the ideas we’ve brought across from automotive into aerospace, we’ve really seen the opportunities to increase our business substantially using our products and processes, expertise and new tooling concepts from within the Group. If customers look at all aspects of the company that they buy from then I think that we have a model that is difficult to beat.”