With a company name like Di-Spark, it’s not too difficult to make an educated guess at where our expertise evolved from. But whilst a heavy focus on EDM certainly was the case 30 years ago when the company began, today Di-Spark is an all round precision subcontractor offering a range of advanced machining services including 5-axis milling and multi-axis mill/turning.
When Di-Spark was founded in 1980 by current managing director David Light’s father Bob, the manufacturing world was a totally different place. Di-Spark actually evolved from a toolmaking company using wire erosion to produce press tools for the printed circuit board industry.
“Today, EDM is an established technology and still used extensively where intricate features need to be machined – often to tight tolerances and with excellent surface finishes,” David Light explains. “In those days however, EDM was still in its infancy but my father instantly recognised its potential.
It’s somewhat difficult to think of EDM as a rapid process but 30 years ago in a world where the manufacture of highly complex parts often involved significant levels of manual labour it was actually something of a revelation. “We evolved into a specialist EDM subcontractor,” Mr Light reveals, “and our investments into dedicated wire erosion and spark erosion equipment meant that we could remove much of the expensive manual labour aspect from the process. It proved to be very successful – the first 10 years of Di-Spark’s existence focused almost entirely on EDM… ”
In 1997 when David Light took over at the helm of Di-Spark he was keen to make his mark but he recognised that the basic foundations at the very heart of the company would need to be maintained.
“My father was very old school,” he says. “He built Di-Spark around an ethos of taking real pride in your work, working hard, putting quality first, training apprentices and investing regularly in new equipment and technology.
It was my aspiration to make Di-Spark a well run, world class manufacturing company, and although we’ve expanded the company significantly over the years, these basic principles are relevant today as they were then”.
Commitment to SC21
Getting the entire workforce to ‘buy in’ to the philosophies of world class performance and continuous improvement is a challenge to any company but Mr Light is a firm believer in applying the principles of modern quality management systems to benefit the business rather than just to maintain a certificate in the wall.
“I firmly believe that it’s important not only to have certified quality systems and supply chain activities but to integrate them into the day to day running of the company. Any business can buy high technology machines but this is only part of the equation – other business activities like infrastructure, marketing, finance and training are just as important”.
Not surprisingly therefore are Di-Spark’s ISO9001 and AS9100 registrations and its participation in the Investors in People programme, Taking things a stage further, the company is also an SC21 signatory demonstrating its commitment to the aerospace and defence supply chains.
Di-Spark has always invested in high-performance, high-productivity machine tools and these machines provide the company with extensive, flexible and advanced machining capacity and capabilities. A good example of this is the company’s investment in multi-axis machines (in particular 8 x 5-axis machining centres).
Says David Light:
‘We made our first investment in 5-axis milling technology way back in 2002 and have never looked back. This technology allows us to manufacture complex, high-precision parts in fewer set-ups and has helped us reduce our costs, achieve improved part accuracies, avoid production bottlenecks and meet ever stringent customer lead times”.
‘Because we know that this technology gives us a distinct competitive advantage we continued to invest in this type of technology right through the recession and beyond’.
Concludes David Light:
‘Although business is good we are not complacent. I believe the decisions we have made and our continuous improvement and investment strategies we have implemented (and continue to implement) have made us stronger and leaner, and better prepared to prosper and grow in these challenging times.’
Precision subcontractors face a constant dilemma. On the one hand they can rely on too few customers and run the ‘all of the eggs in one basket’ risk in a downturn. On the other hand, they can have too many customers which can create logistical nightmares and can adversely affect quality, lead times and profitability.
The decision made by Di-Spark was to reduce its customer base focussing its efforts on fewer customers in the high-end aerospace, defence, medical, oil/gas and motorsport sectors…and strengthening its supply chain position with these customers.
Says David Light:
‘We design and deliver be-spoke sophisticated manufacturing solutions and are not in the commodity market.
‘Using our technologies and skills we have developed stronger relationships with a smaller group of customers…and, because we operate across a number of sectors, we are better positioned to cope if a specific sector is experiencing a downturn’.