In a Q&A session, DK Holdings’ sales & marketing manager, John Emptage discusses the company’s range of diamond tooling solutions for the demand task of processing composite materials.
The desire to reduce component weight is a major driving factor in the development of new products. This has led to the widespread adoption of lightweight materials, such as carbon fibre reinforced plastics and combinations of CFRP and metal. Whilst all combine excellent mechanical characteristics, they unfortunately share less desirable characteristics in that they are difficult to cut accurately and efficiently.
Leading diamond tool specialists, DK Holdings manufactures and supplies a range of tooling specifically developed to accommodate the cutting, grinding, drilling, countersinking, counterboring and routing applications of both CFRP and GRP. Highly concentrated diamonds - rigidly bonded by electroplating - are used to give the customer maximum product performance. These diamond-bonded products are manufactured by DK Holdings in the form of tools, such as saw blades, routers, burrs, bandsaws, holesaws, countersinks, counterbores, twist drills, surface planers and backface cutters.
Q) Firstly, please bring me up to speed with your latest news regarding your facility upgrade?
We are continuously looking to upgrade our manufacturing capabilities in order to meet our customer’s changing needs. Expanding our production facilities to over 3,200m2 in 2015 enabled us to invest in the latest machinery, helping our team evolve and move forward with the industries we supply solutions for. We are keen to reduce the effects of climate change, so all our new buildings are fitted with solar panels to reduce our carbon footprint.
Q) Which industries are you seeing the most take-up for your solutions? Automotive? Aerospace? Wind turbines? Marine?
I’d say all of the above. We have worked closely with these industries for over 60 years, helping them to design and develop new production and manufacturing techniques. In some cases, our team of dedicated technical engineers works with our customers from inception through the design process, concluding with the finished product. We are fortunate to be working with companies and research centres around the world, enabling us to see many new materials in the development stage, which gives us a great advantage when it comes to developing production tooling.
Q) Why are specialised composite cutting tools needed as opposed to using traditional metal cutting tools?
The everchanging use and development of composite materials has meant a total rethink in the machining processes needed. Composite materials by their very nature are extremely abrasive, and, depending on composition, can be very hard. This means that conventional tooling material, such as high-speed steel or tungsten carbide inevitably wear and fail prematurely, making long production runs very costly. Diamond on the other hand, being the hardest substance known to man, overcomes this problem. By harnessing the characteristics of the diamond particles and utilising over half a century of design experience, we’ve been able to produce a range to tools to cut, drill, grind or profile any composite material.
Q) What are the technical challenges posed by different kinds of composite materials?
Every composite material presents a variety of different tooling challenges. DK Holdings is fortunate in having a fantastic technical R&D team on site who help advise our customers as to the best suited tools for their application. Whether that be an off-the-shelf product which can be delivered next day or a bespoke one-off tool. It may be that the grade of diamond needs to be different or the tool geometry should be changed or it could be as simple as recommending different speeds and feeds, our team can do it all!
Q) What are the main focus areas for your R&D and how is tool life and consistency performance being improved over time?
We always have a number of development projects on the go as we continuously look to improve our already excellent diamond tooling product range. As mentioned earlier, we’re extremely fortunate to be working in partnership with some very prolific companies worldwide, ranging from F1 teams to leading producers of wind turbines or manufacturers of superyachts. Our focus is to serve our customers as best as we can.
Q) What kinds of technology developments do you foresee in the composites tooling arena going forward?
One major technology development is the advancement in types of synthetic diamond which is being increasingly produced worldwide due to natural diamond being a finite product. We are probably a little way off being like for like, but there are certainly some applications in which man-made diamond crystals have performed very well. From a tooling point of view, we are very much led by our customers and composite material developers. As new materials are progressively being developed, we as tooling manufacturers need to be quick in developing what our customers need.
Q) Can you provide any typical customer success examples where your products have particularly shone above and beyond those of similar competitor offerings?
One of our customers needed to remove large volumes of composite material within their process of manufacturing wind turbine blades. After consultation with the customer and operators, our team designed and manufactured a set of electroplated diamond tools to do the job. The results were outstanding. The customer achieved a 50% reduction in labour time. Additionally, the tools used can be returned for re-plating once worn, which made this a very cost-effective solution. Our customer was very satisfied with our services which ultimately is what we strive for.
Q) What differentiates your company from the competition?
As a manufacturer of diamond tools for over half a century, we’re able to produce both, off-the-shelf standard products and bespoke one-off tools based on our customer requirements. Our customers do not have to make do with a close enough product, but one that is totally right for them. We are additionally ISO accredited, holding both ISO 9001 and ISO 45001. Our customers can always be sure of high quality precision tooling from the first tool to any subsequent tooling, which is very important for consistency and productivity.
Q) What particular aspect has helped your company get through the pandemic?
In line with Government guidance we received, a conscious decision was made to try and keep production running throughout lockdown in order to ensure none of our customers were let down. As more of our customers return to offices and production, we are able to help them get their production back up and running. Our longstanding relationship alongside valued partnerships with our customers, has certainly stood us in good stead and will continue to do so.
Q) Would you say these long-standing partnerships have brought huge benefits, particularly as trusted relationships can lead to a better way forward for all?
Yes, definitely. We pride ourselves in becoming trusted partners to our customers, working with them to understand their requirements from start to finish. We have built firm relationships with a lot of international companies over the years, as well as research and development centres. This not only benefits us in developing and selling precision tooling, but also gives material researchers and developers confidence to play around with new ideas, knowing they can call on us to advise with the tooling side of things.
Q) Where to next for your company?
We are very much looking forward to providing at least another 60 years of specialist service to our customers and continuing to evolve with the everchanging demands in materials and industries. The team loves a challenge and whatever the next few years bring, we are ready!