10 July 2012
Think Fenn Tool is a specialist supplier for niche tooling requirements? You're not alone, but it simply isn't true, explains the company, which wants to put the record straight. Andrew Allcock went to hear more
Braintree, Essex-based Fenn Tool is both a supplier of numerous premium brands from German, Austrian, Swiss and American companies (see box below for brands and details), as well as a designer and manufacturer of its own solid carbide milling tools (Fetoga). Collectively, the tooling specialist has many thousands of products to offer end users. "For any machining problem, we don't just have one solution, we have three, four or five," explains the company.
And the firm believes there isn't another independent UK tooling company that can come anywhere near to offering this breadth of tooling and ancillary equipment; the latter taking in tool presetters, measuring machines and tool management software from Zoller, tool vending machines, and Haimer spindle tooling shrink-fit systems and balancing technology.
Fenn Tool holds a comprehensive stock of tooling, together with demonstration presetters and shrink-fit systems, in order to offer its customers a next-day delivery service.
KENNAMETAL ON BOARD
But its traditional range has been boosted significantly recently through the company taking on national sales of the full range of Kennametal tooling, together with its Tool Boss vending system/management system, with this fully backed by Kennametal. "This gives us a full range of indexable carbide tooling, something that we previously didn't have, as we were predominantly round shank or spindle tooling. The lack of an indexable range was one of the biggest handicaps in our ambition to be able to offer a single source tooling service," the company offers.
The introduction of Kennametal actually started prior to the recession, but on a softly-softly basis. The arrangement was made 'official', with Kennametal fully backing Fenn Tool's efforts since late 2009/10 "This has proved of huge benefit to both parties," it is highlighted - there is to be further news on this relationship later in the year, Machinery was told. As of this year, this same Kennametal relationship has been extended to Fenn Tool's sister company in Ireland.
The 34-employee firm, established in 1982, is still ramping up the exploitation of this tooling range, and its success relies on Fenn Tool's currently 11 technical salesmen getting to grips with, and becoming comfortable with, a broad range of indexable tooling that represents a massive addition to the already wide range.
The number of single-source tooling arrangements is now into double figures, although with the current number representing just 0.5% of the company's regular customer base, Fenn Tool believes there is much more to go for. This is particularly the case where the company already has customers to which it is a key supplier, except for indexables. Large subcontractors working for tier one firms are the typical beneficiaries of this approach, which can even see Fenn Tool technical sales engineers directly participating in production engineering meetings – an 'integrated partner', as it is described -– another element in Fenn Tool's refreshed sales approach of developing broader, deeper customer relationships.
Another key change at the company has been the expansion of the standard DIN range of solid carbide tooling available from Maykestag (perhaps better known as plain Kestag). This, explains the company, has meant that Fenn Tool can now concentrate on the design and manufacture of solid carbide non-DIN milling cutters – both in terms of non-standard sizes (lengths/flute lengths) and, to a lesser extent, in developing cutter geometries for specific customer challenges.
Image: The recently installed ANCA MX7
In support of manufacturing, the company has recently taken delivery of another ANCA tool grinding machine, an MX7 with 6-wheel changer (ANCA number six for Fenn Tool), and is also employing a Zoller Genius 3 to perform tool measurement on its ground tools, with automatic machine offset update a future target. Some 25% of the company's turnover is generated from its own manufactured product.
Image: Made in-house, Fenn Tool's Fetoga brand tools, but the company is moving away from standard designs more
Image: The recently installed Genius 3 Zoller tool measurement station supports in-house manufacture and will also be part of a more tightly integrated shopfloor and office IT system
Sales director Gary Ridgway, who has this year started to focus on the development of specials for customers, highlights some examples. "We're experimenting with silicon nitride brushing of edges – edge prepping – to provide a better adhesion surface for tool coatings. We have also developed five and six-flute Varimills [variable helix angle], but this time, instead of alternating between two helix values, every helix angle is different. This has been successful on Duplex steel.
"Another development has been cutters with through-tool coolant holes at a very small centre distance, preventing weakening of the cutting edge, while also avoiding problems associated with a single, central coolant hole that would break into the centre detail. We're running cutters like this at 28,000 rpm and using through-tool mist coolant. Elsewhere, we are experimenting with rake angles and carbide grades – there are many more carbide rod grades to choose from than when we first started making cutters."
Companies that are processing exotic, difficult-to-machine materials are the target for this service, and it has already proved highly successful, revealing a huge untapped demand. And being a small, flexible company, experimenting and turning round specials is not a protracted affair at Fenn Tool.
Yet another part of the business that has taken off has been the presetting and balancing units. "We exhibited at the MACH exhibition this year, as we have for a number of years and, unlike in previous times, people were very interested in this technology, actively seeking it out. We've already supplied six balancing machines this year, while presetters are also moving faster," says the company, adding: "We believe that with much general subcontracting work having been taken by the BRIC countries, UK companies now are undertaking more demanding work, using advanced machine tools and needing to be as efficient as possible, with uptime crucial. That means setting tools offline and running them at high spindle speeds."
Fenn Tool's efforts are reflected in the company's performance. Due to its expanding product range, well defined sales focus and commercial flexibility, it saw sales fall less steeply than others during the recession. And with an ambitious three-year development plan to 2013, the company had a record year in 2011 and is ahead of plan in the current year, it highlights.
Fenn Tool is also about to embark on a significant refurbishment to its first floor offices, with the ground floor stores, demonstration room and manufacturing area also targeted for upgrading. The firm has also been in continual recruitment mode for two years and is now looking for one external and one internal technical sales engineer; an external sales person who will be dedicated to the presetter and balancing technology area, and a dedicated marketing individual. It has already recently started a manufacturing apprentice, who will, after the initial nine-month government apprenticeship, go on to a four-year apprenticeship programme.
A new website featuring an application-led tool selection approach, as opposed to process-based, is imminent as well, while a new company-wide computer system will integrate more fully its manufacturing operations and office systems.
If Fenn Tool was prepared previously to live with an erroneous perception and to under- exploit its offering, it no longer is; it has set out to fully utilise what is clearly an unusually broad offer through a well-defined strategy and is investing to support it.
Product brands available from Fenn Tool
 DC Swiss – Cobalt & also ASP thread cutting, milling, whirling, forming, plus combined Thriller-type tools.
 Dummel – Ultramini grooving, boring and profiling solid carbide tools, starting at ø 0.2 mm; Ultramini hardline solid carbide tools for materials up to 63 HRc; Minicut internal grooving tips and holders, from 7.8 mm bore diameter; groove turning tips and toolholders; slot milling cutters (80 mm diameter cutters); disk milling cutters (80 to 160 mm diameter); broaching tools for slot cutting on CNC machining centres or turning centres; solid carbide groove milling cutters, from 6 mm; groove milling system of tips and holders, starting at 6 mm diameter tools; circular milling tools.
 Fetoga – Fenn tools own brand of solid carbide milling tools.
 Hahnreiter – Cobalt HSS and ASP standard and special taps, dies and gauges.
 Haimer – High precision rotating spindle tooling; shrink-fit spindle tooling; tool balancing system; the Safe-Lock spindle tooling system that mechanically prevents cutters from being pulled out of the holder.
 Kennametal – inserted carbide tooling.
 Maykestag –Solid carbide drills, countersinks, reamers, milling cutters, rotary burrs; cobalt HSS also ASP drills, taps and dies, reamers, countersinks and milling cutters.
Millstar - Profile and contour milling technology, taking in carbide Inserts, carbide solids, tool holders, carbide button cutters, high feed machining.
Sphinx – micro drills in both cobalt HSS (0.05-3.175 mm) and ASP (0.05-2.0 mm) in increments of 0.01mm), high performance carbide drills and carbide milling cutters.
Zoller – Tool presetting, tool measurement and tool management technology.
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