Di-Spark LTD – 24/7 Automated Machining
It’s not just about quality, delivering on time and at a competitive price – another requirement is limiting the problems for the customer by being able to apply your knowledge,” suggests David Light, managing director of Di-Spark Ltd – 24/7 Automated Machining.
Di-Spark evolved out of another engineering company, started by David Light’s father, that made press tools – a labour intensive, precision engineering business. In 1977, he saw a machine at an exhibition, an EDM (electrical discharge machining), and was so impressed with it, he bought two of them. It was quite a technical bit of kit, and helped to revolutionise the business further towards automated machining. The technique, also known as spark erosion, removes metal by producing a rapid series of repeated electrical discharges between an electrode and the piece of metal being machined. It’s more intricate than conventional milling.
Local companies heard of it and wanted the company to help them out with their machining, and so my dad, recognising the opportunity, started Di-Spark as a sideline to the main business. The new automated machining business continued to grow into the mid nineties, and then David Light’s dad decided to retire and sold the original company. He was looking for an exit for Di-Spark, but hadn’t planned it very well. He was always more of a hands-on guy, whereas David Light, the current MD is more of a planner, more academic, and he ended up selling David the business in 1997.
“I took stock and planned, and decided to evolve the business into being a provider of complete machine parts – a value added contractor. We also branched into other machining technologies so that now EDM makes up only 50% of the business as opposed to 75%, but we’re in the top three of EDM contract businesses in the UK. In 2011, plan initiated to tip the business even more in the other direction, so in a sense our name – which reflects the EDM – is a bit of a hindrance.”
Investing in the advanced machining technology has stood Di-Spark in good stead, and what David Light has tried to do is aspire to world-class practices and industry standard benchmarks – that said, it’s all very well having the best machines, but if no-one knows who you are, or the value you can add, they’re worth nothing. So Di-Spark made the strategic decision to take on a new business manager and also to focus on ten key customers from our 500 accounts who were in markets we knew would mean we could have a long relationship with them.
“Most of our subsequent business has been working with them, rather than from looking for new customers all of the time. Eighteen months ago, with the world changing, a few dropped off the scale, but the rest had strong trading potential, so I feel I made a good call – or at least, an educated guess – in choosing our key customers.”
Now Di-Spark Ltd are a manufacturer in a broader market place, and there is a lot of competition, but Di-Spark’s high investment route has actually given the company a competitive advantage. The lowest cost model is starting to unravel now and if companies take into account lead times, quality and how problems are dealt with, the low cost contractors don’t come out on top. One of Di-Spark’s aerospace customers, for example, decided to put their machining out to tender, driven by their corporate owners. Di-Spark made fourty of those parts. Lots of audits took place and Di-Spark got into the last four with intricate knowledge of the parts and Di-Spark quoted quoted keenly, but didn’t win the work. It was a disappointment, and the company moved the work to a precision engineering company in the north which had come in at 30% cheaper. Since then, they’ve gone bust of course! So, in these current climes we do not feel threatened by undercutting, as the grass often isn’t greener and there are definitive reasons for a significant undercut which are detrimental to the final product.
“I’m the thinking in the darkened room, planning man – I leave a customer development manager in charge of customer relations. As the owner/manager of a small business, I can be a bit of a control freak, but that can be a constraining factor in a small business. You have to let go of certain aspects of business to people who are better at doing it. This gives extra scope for growth and capacity. “