Hidden gem


Contributing Editor Steed Webzell gains rare insight into the world of diamond tooling thanks to an exclusive chat with John Emptage, Sales Manager at DK Holdings

The small town of Staplehurst in rural Kent is an unlikely place to find one of the UK’s foremost manufacturers of diamond tools. But this is the home of DK Holdings, an ISO-accredited designer, manufacturer and supplier of high-quality diamond tooling with experience stretching back to 1959, the 85-employee company is now undertaking a new challenge: driving growth in its recently introduced subcontract machining service.

DK Holdings supplies off-the shelf and bespoke diamond tooling solutions to a variety of industries and applications. Diamond tools such as grinding wheels, drills, reamers, routers and milling cutters are ideal for working on materials like hardened steels, titanium, nickel alloys and broad spread of engineering composites.

Special measures

While DK Holdings can despatch off-the-shelf products as part of a next-day delivery service, bespoke diamond tools make up a large proportion of the company’s offer.

“We partner with customers to create specials using our experience and technical expertise to add value and create the optimal solution,” explains Sales Manager John Emptage. “Customers come to us with a new process, seeking optimisation. We have many long-serving, qualified engineers on site who are highly experienced in delivering the best possible outcome. In addition, we work with many research centres and universities in the UK.”

He continues: “There’s so many diverse applications that require a bespoke diamond tool, including medical prosthetics, wind turbine blades, Formula 1 cars, tobacco manufacturing machines and railway bridges, and we’re involved in developing successful and stable manufacturing processes for all of them. Yes, we have some big international competitors that offer diamond tooling, but most want to sell you a nearest-fit standard product. And in many cases you won’t be able to buy direct; you’ll have to go via a catalogue distributor.”

Get the green light

Aftersales support is a further service that sets DK Holdings apart from its competitors. Stripping and re-plating a diamond tool not only saves up to 40% against the cost of buying new, it also renders old bodies reusable, making it a green process in many ways.

And that is one of just many environmental initiatives at DK Holdings. For instance, the company recently added another 585 solar panels to its production facilities. Alongside the 50kW already in place, DK Holdings can now produce 33% of the energy required to run its site annually via solar power. This huge investment delivers an estimated annual CO2 emission saving of 60tCO2e/year, the equivalent of planting 2,770 trees.

On the subject of trees, DK Holdings has now planted over 240 trees through its Gold Membership with The Green Organisation, while the company is also in the process of replacing its business fleet with electric cars. As a whole, the sustainability efforts of DK Holdings have not gone unnoticed: the business recently gained EcoVadis Silver medal status, an accolade dedicated to recognising, rewarding and promoting environmental best practices around the world. DK Holdings was in the top 18% of companies undertaking the survey in 2022/23.

Need capacity?

At the heart of DK’s environmentally friendly operation is its 4000m2 state-of-the-art production facilities, which comprise four fully equipped workshops. The company recently decided to put its manufacturing excellence to further use by introducing a subcontract machining service.

“We have a vast selection of machinery on site for manufacturing our diamond tools, so thought why not use some of that capacity to serve others,” says John Emptage. “We were getting so many requests that it seemed a natural progression to make it an official service. As a business we have the skills, experience and the machinery to make subcontracting a real success. We continue to invest in the purchase of new machines, including CNC turning centres with twin spindles and driven tools. We also have CNC milling, wire erosion, grinding, pressing, CADCAM and inspection capabilities, which enable us to offer larger production runs, smaller batch component manufacturing or a one-off special.”

DK Holding’s machining capabilities and team of skilled engineers make it possible to produce precision engineered components in a wide variety of materials, everything from aluminium and steel through to tungsten carbide.

“Although cutting-edge machinery is vital, we have a fantastic team of production staff whose dedication, experience and expertise are supported by our ISO9001-accredited quality department,” says John Emptage. “We’re also nurturing the next generation of talent through our apprenticeship scheme, a strategy that simultaneously contributes to long-term business continuity. We see the threat posed by a lack of new skills as a potential obstacle to our ongoing success, which is why we invest heavily in this area.”

The company firmly believes that apprenticeships are crucial to a thriving business, combining the skillset of its experienced workforce and coupling it with new ideas. This approach leads to increased productivity and the continuous development of new products.

And products are of course what this progressive business is all about. The DK Holdings name is synonymous with the design, manufacture and supply of diamond tooling solutions worldwide and is in no mood to surrender its market-leading position.

“Yes, there’s competition from manufacturers based in low-wage economies, but we’re not in that space,” states John Emptage. “Rather than high-volume standard solutions at a low prices, we seek to add value and utilise our skills in support of customers. This way, we can always ensure the delivery of an optimal solution that maximises return-on-investment.”

Moving forward, the company is looking to expand its market reach and revenues at home and abroad, a task not without its challenges.

“Brexit has been kind in some respects but not in others,” he concludes. “We’ve seen some benefit from customers reshoring that in turn opened up new sectors and markets for us to explore, whilst rebuild our existing partnerships overseas. We also work closely with the Department for Business and Trade to find ways of further extending our export reach. We’re an ambitious UK manufacturing company that constantly strives for more growth.”

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