As Amtek Precision Engineers celebrates its 30th anniversary the company finds itself in a strong position, ready to face the challenges of the future. Orders and enquiries for the high precision multi-cavity caps and closures injection mould tools and complex CNC components that the company has become synonymous for are at an all-time high. And, ongoing investment in staff and manufacturing technology is ensuring that the business will continue to meet and often exceed customer demands.
Image: Mike Jones, Managing Director & Helen Jones, Finance Director
Currently occupying 21,000 ft2 of industrial real estate in Totnes, South West England, Amtek Precision Engineers has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1984. Back then the fledgling company was struggling to find suitable facilities for its machine tools. As Managing Director, Mike Jones, recalls: “I had been searching for a while before my wife, Helen, found units in the sleepy fishing village of Stoke Gabriel. We managed to secure 1,000 ft2 for £21 a week and one of my best business decisions followed, when Helen become a partner in the business. Today, she is Financial Director.”
When the owner of the units in Stoke Gabriel put forward plans to develop the land for housing a new location was required. Having acquired the first two units at the company’s current site the staff and equipment moved the few miles up the road. Establishing a reputation for exceptional quality resulted in a growing demand for Amtek’s services: “This created more work than we could handle and that is still the case today,” Mike Jones says.
The foundation of the company’s reputation came from a number of sources. The first was the choice of materials. With a background in aeronautical materials gained in the Middle East, Mike Jones used his experience to the company’s advantage. He says: “I looked at the other mould making companies around and while their moulds were good, I thought we could do better. We invested in the highest grade quality steel and best standard components where necessary, which resulted in zero repairs coming back from the customers and from there we really took off.”
Next was the knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff; many of which have completed toolmaking apprenticeships with local engineering companies and have remained with Amtek, growing in parallel with the company. Danny Grant is a prime example of growing with the company, having joined in 1997 he has progressed to the role of Senior Development Manager.
Here he brings his practical programming and machining experience to the fore. As he says: “Just because you can make something a certain way it doesn’t mean you should. There are many considerations that should be looked at before an informed choice is made. The initial cost of producing a mould tool is relatively high, and the size has a direct impact on the price of both the injection equipment and the tool; so the customer will look to us to keep everything as small as possible.
“We have to work outwards from the cavities, ensuring there is enough material between the high pressure injected plastic material and the heating and cooling channels, so that it does not rupture. All to tolerances we apply are a factor of 10 times better than any specified by the customer, that is how we can provide a 1 million shot warranty on our tools.”
Along with the experienced staff new blood is required to support the future plans of the business. “We see apprenticeships as an important step towards narrowing the skills gap in the engineering industry, we already have a number of apprentices here and are looking to start three more on the programme. The Government has been very pro-active in its support and it is good to see we are starting to get the intelligent youngsters back into engineering,” Mike Jones states.
Making up the final part of the equation are the high quality machine tools that Amtek invest in. Typically, the company will purchase Japanese or Swiss technology with an emphasis on automation for unmanned overnight operation to support the 22 staff working during the day.
The Mikron HSM 400 with robotic pallet loader fits these parameters perfectly says Mike Jones: “We purchased the first HSM 400 produced; I believe that machine can do the work of 20 good men with 20 milling machines. The quality and accuracy is phenomenal, which was one of the key reasons we followed up with the purchase of the Mikron 65,000 rpm Graphite Master – also with a robotic pallet loader. This has allowed us to switch from copper to predominantly graphite EDM electrodes for our die sink machines, supporting our ability to create highly detailed mould cavities and mirror-like finishing.”
Electro discharge machining features prominently and Amtek was one of the early adopters of Swiss CNC spark erosion. More recently the company has invested in both wire and sink EDM technology from one of Japan’s leading providers, Sodick.
Although the majority of the programming for the die sink machines is done at the controller, the complexity of the NC code required for the Mikron machines, the Mazak Integrex mill-turn centre and the wire EDMs means it is more efficient to produce the program using the company’s CAD/CAM office that is equipped with AutoCAD, SolidWorks and Delcam’s FeatureCAM.
Danny Grant says: “The introduction of hard turning technology to replace cylindrical grinding was another significant step forward for us, improving efficiency dramatically and helping us meet the customers’ project lead times.”
Customers that rely on Amtek’s knowledge and advice include leading soft drinks producers and high-end distilleries, as well as medical and pharmaceutical caps and closures. “Industry figures state that over 900 million caps and closures are made every year from just one of our projects,” explains Mike Jones. “While the sector that demands the majority of our capacity varies each year, we do know the suites of tools we manufacture here in the UK are used by customers across the globe. At our level of quality we don’t have much of a threat from China, the best of the Swiss and the German mould toolmakers are our competition.”