Located in Erith, Kent, on the Europa Trading Estate since 1975, managing director John Schwarz, grandson of founder and ex-Spitfire pilot Ray Schwarz, points to a set of photographs on a wall. They are from August 1978, taken during one of the company’s regular in-house shows that drew hundreds of visitors, he recalls – “like a mini-MACH show”. Local Member of Parliament for Bexley and past Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath is one of the individuals in the photos.

RK International Machine Tools (https://is.gd/bKYUxE) has deep and firm roots. Founded in 1951 as RK Supply (Croydon), the firm became a producer of small machines within a few years (an example of the first, an Arkadia surface grinder, can be seen in the company’s workshop, below) before moving onto buying and selling. The 1960s saw RK secure agencies for leading global manufacturers, many of which it still offers today, including 600 Group marques Colchester and Harrison. In more recent times, RK’s links to Haas as a past agent mean it claims a strength in dealing in second-hand machines of that popular brand, too, many of which were on the shopfloor as at Machinery’s August visit.

An Arkadia surface grinder, an early machine produced by RK Supply (Croydon)

So by that 1978 event, the company had become a major machine tool supplier, with John Schwarz joining the firm a little later, in 1983, along with Dick Aldrich, sales director for many years but who is now reducing his commitments. John Schwarz became managing director in 1998.

Today, the 22-employee operation continues to offer a very broad range of quality brands (box, right), from pedestal drills to, through links to Engineering Technology Group (ETG), large VTLs; provides machine service in support of machine sales, both in the UK and Europe; has a customer database of some 15,000; and trades internationally for both new and second-hand machinery, taking in Europe, Iran, Pakistan, Ethiopia, South America, Vietnam, China, New Zealand and more. The company has placed machines in almost any sector you’d care to name.

Sales revenues are split roughly 75/25 in favour of new machines; the company holds machines to the value of £1.5 million in stock at its 11,000 ft2 Erith HQ and at partner locations. Exports this year (1 Oct- 30 Sept), boosted by currency depreciation, will probably be 15% – “double the typical figure”, Schwarz offers, although import prices are hit in a negative sense, of course. But, on matters Brexit, he is keen to get on with business and find opportunities where they exist – both in sales and purchases. That means exports, yes, but also a push on machine rentals as investment sentiment weakens. This sees machines rented for six months on 5% of purchase price, with 90% of companies opting to buy thereafter (getting 75% of that 5% back), the managing director highlights. Additions to its range are also made when opportunity arises – steam cleaning equipment, used in its own operations, was a recent unusual and unpredicted one, for example (more: https://is.gd/hMW9Q6). RK is recruiting, too, having recently taken on another salesman and an extra employee for the factory floor, with further a salesman in prospect.

Earlier this year, Simon Rood, who has booked 10+ years with the company (more with other machine tool operations), became director and general manager, following the decision by sales director Dick Aldrich to reduce his workload. That was soon followed by a June deal to supply and support Lagun brand CNC machining centres, boosting RK’s capacity in this area (now 12 m X-axis maximum). Already having a comprehensive portfolio, Rood suggests greater emphasis on the sheet metal side is likely going forward, although at next year’s MACH exhibition (NEC, Birmingham, 9-13 April), it will be the company’s Robbi and Perfect grinding ranges that will take centre stage. In fact, an order for a Perfect gantry-type surface grinder that was kicked off at the 2016 MACH exhibition has just turned up, reveals Schwarz.

Box item

Key brands

Turning (electronic & CNC): Colchester; Comev; Europa (own brand, Taiwan-sourced); Harrison; plus Nakamura Tome & Pietro Carnaghi from ETG Milling (conventional & CNC): Europa turret-, bed- & ram-type mills Machining centres: Hardinge Bridgeport vertical, horizontal & 5-axis; Lagun universal bed-type & moving-column Drilling (pedestal & radial): Arboga; Kitchen & Walker; Meddings Grinding (cylindrical, surface, internal, centreless, fine & super finishing): Delta; Europa Jainnher; Melchiorre; Perfect; Robbi Thread rolling: Europa Mega Sawing: Bauer; Europa; Prosaw; Startrite Sheet metalworking (folding, pressbrakes, punching, profiling, shears): Haco; HM Machinery; Kingsland Miscellaneous: Guyson surface blasting; Kerry degreasing; Lista tool storage.

Machine pictures/installations

The recently-added Robbi Omicron IGU CNC internal grinder. Maximum workpiece diameter of 650 mm; 200 mm maximum internal diameter

This Lagun TM T series offers turning capacity, rotating parts weighing up to 5 tonnes at up to
400 rpm

A group of 18 Harrison M300 lathes, taken in part-exchange, on the shopfloor. Another 10 were due the following day, but 10 had already been sold, due to be shipped the day after that. Machines are often sold before they even arrive at Erith

Forgings 1.5 by 1.5 m are machined on this Comev Titano 80 CNC lathe at Leonardo Helicopters. The 1,600 mm swing over bed, 4 m centre distance lathe is probably the largest new machine tool installed by RK International

Precision granite (polymer concrete) casting supplier GraniTek installed a Perfect PFG-160200AHD double-column machine having 1,600 by 2,000 mm table and 6 tonne load, allowing it to eliminate subcontracting and associated long lead times

First published in Machinery, September 2017