When it was formed in 2002 Protool Manufacturing resisted the temptation to conform to what was expected of a toolmaker and delivered a dynamic, ‘can do’, approach to its fledgling business. This attitude, combined with the decades of experience of its employees enabled it to carve out a successful market for its bespoke and turn-key solutions for rapid tooling, production injection mould tooling and fixtures.
The business has grown solidly in the intervening years and 2011 should see a turnover of £2.3 million, which is evenly split between the manufacture of injection mould tools and rapid tooling at its Havant facility and a service that sources and project manages tooling in low-cost regions, especially China. However, it remains committed to manufacturing in the UK and has recently invested in additional capacity and upgraded existing machine tools to provide greater flexibility for high speed machining and unmanned hours. A move that is enabling it to remain highly competitive as a UK manufacturer, supplying customers in the automotive, business electronics, medical, and consumer products sectors.
“It is vitally important that we keep our machining base here in the UK, and that is one of the reasons for our continued investment in machining capacity,” says Steve Hall, Protool Manufacturing’s Managing Director. “Having manufacturing in Havant helps us to maintain one of our unique selling points, namely the manufacture mould tools from a CAD file to producing parts in a very short space of time. An important part of that is the machining of 3D forms within the moulds.”
The last three new machines bought by Protool have been supplied by Chorley, Lancashire-based, Design and Technical Services (DTS), which is the sole UK agency for Nicholas Correa and Johnford machining and turning centres. The first of these was a Correa machine purchased several years ago, but in the past two years Protool had a need to increase machining capacity and went ahead with the purchase of its first Johnford Super Vertical SV41 machining centre.
“At the time we researched the market and came across the Johnford machines, which in our opinion provided excellent value for money and the specification of the machine suited our business and the type of work we are doing. We manufacture mould tools for all types of applications, but the bulk of our work is aluminium, but when we do get asked to machine fully-hardened steel moulds, the Johnford performs extremely well.”
So well in fact that when one of Protool’s Bridgeport machines needed replacing Steve Hall had no hesitation in ordering a second Johnford SV41. Both machines feature a 12,000 revs/min 7.5kW cartridge-type spindle (option of up to 24,000 revs/min), axis travels of 1050 mm, 610 mm and 610 mm in x, y and z and traverse rates of 30 m/min in x and y and 20 m/min in z. All of which is supported by a classic Meehanite cast iron machine construction designed with the aid of finite element analysis.
“The second Johnford machine has only been with us for a couple of months now, but it is performing to the same standards as the first, in so much as we have had no issues, either reliability or performance, with either machine,” confirms Steve Hall. As part of Protool’s initial search of the market for machining capacity it did consider looking at higher specification, but used machine tools. “We could have spent a lot more and we nearly did. However, we questioned ourselves and asked why we wanted additional machine capacity and the answers to those questions confirmed that the Johnford machines would give us everything that we needed, and we have been proved correct as the Super Vertical machining centre is a very versatile machine.”
Machine rigidity is an important factor for Protool as this is linked to surface finish on the machined components, with a better surface finish requiring less manual polishing and fitting. “I would say that we are now in an ideal position as we can achieve the optimum surface finish without spending more than we needed to on a machine tool,” says Steve Hall. Another aspect of the process that Protool was very happy about was the level of service and support provided by DTS, which was very accommodating on the delivery and installation of the second machine. “The second machine couldn’t have arrived at a worse time for us as we were in the middle of completing major project, when we mentioned this to DTS they happily rescheduled the installation until after we had completed this project”.
This was due in part to the relationship the Protool has with Ray Vockins, DTS’s salesman for the south of England, who according to Steve Hall is a rare breed. “I have full trust in Ray and when we explained what we were looking for and indicated that we may consider a used machine, which he could have sourced, he was happy to steer us towards the Johnford machine. His confidence in the product has been justified and I would be happy to recommend them to anyone.”
The first of the two Johnford machines installed at Protool was also one of the first into the UK and the first in the south of England following the appointment of DTS as the UK agent for the brand. A further 29 Johnford machines have been delivered to customers across the UK working in a wide variety of applications. “When we were appointed the agent for Johnford in the UK we knew that the machines were well built to an extremely high standard and it has been reassuring that companies, such as Protool, have recognised that fact and are taking advantage of the exceptional value for money and performance that the machines provide,” says Gary Sanderson Sales Director, Design and Technical Services (UK).