Interview : The sharpest tool in the box


David Jones, General Manager at cutting tool specialist Iscar UK, talks exclusively to Contributing Editor Steed Webzell about the added-value the company can bring to its customers and why there is a real need for long-term stability at Government level

Established in the late 1970s, Iscar UK has occupied its current facility in Birmingham since 1986, a site that includes an impressive technical centre equipped with the latest machine tools and supporting equipment, and even an 85-seat theatre for presentations and training. New investment means there will soon be two more CNC machine tools arriving on site, including a five-axis machining centre.

“Our Technical Centre requires flexibility to meet the demands of various industry sectors, so it’s important to have a variety of machine types,” explains General Manager David Jones. “We try to keep improving our services and facilities for customers, helping to enhance their cutting performance and process efficiencies. In this extremely challenging economic landscape, every second and penny counts.”

Sparring partners

Alongside its own extensive repertoire of cutting tools, Iscar UK leverages the support of various technical partners with whom the company has developed very close working relationships.

“The Technical Centre operates like a machine shop, so we need coolant, pre-setting equipment, work-holding solutions, CADCAM software, metrology and so on, just like our customers,” says Mr Jones. “We look at it in four stages: materials, machinery, manpower and methods: that’s the perfect example of what we need – and what our customers need.”

Iscar UK recently held a two-day Open House, with over 130 people in attendance each day. The company had 11 technical partners on site demonstrating their technologies. So, as well as the latest cutting tool innovations, visitors got to see the future of other developments, such as robotic laser measurement and 3D printing. Exposure to technology of this type is important in almost all industry sectors as growing numbers of manufacturing companies seek competitive gain and market differentiation.

“General engineering is quite buoyant at present, while aerospace is coming back from a very subdued period following the Covid-19 pandemic,” explains Mr Jones. “Automotive, medical and oil and gas are also proving resurgent. Of course, we’re all hoping for a bit of stability at parliamentary level, which we need due to the aftermath of the pandemic and now the conflict in Ukraine. From a humanitarian perspective, the situation is horrific, but every one of us is also feeling the economic impact – as individuals and businesses – not least in the cost of utilities.”

He adds: “If you look at the general economy, with inflation at its highest level for over a decade and the Bank of England raising interest rates to combat this issue, conditions are very tough. Any improvements in machining process that we can develop as a specialist in cutting tools, can make a real difference. At the moment, it’s something that we’re discussing closely with customers because the machining sector is very competitive; and the market is tough because the world is in a tough place. Although we’re still seeing investment, we would of course like to see increased demand, more projects and machine tool investments, but what we really need is market and financial stability, but that will only come with confidence.”

Innovation never stops

In the 1980s, Iscar announced to the world that it is the company ‘where innovation never stops’. Iscar constantly supplies customers with new innovations, process improvements and better tool performance that, in turn, deliver the cost savings required to stabilise businesses and support them through any tough times.

“For instance, we’re currently working with our latest range, NEOLOGIQ, but this is not just one product – the brochure is 88 pages of new introductions,” states Mr Jones. “NEOLOGIQ comprises solutions for logical milling, intelligent turning, unique, market leading parting and efficient hole-making. We’ve got fast-feed milling products, multi-edge milling products and small-insert milling products; and that’s just on the milling side. From a drilling perspective we can offer three-fluted indexable drills, which are unique in the market. Against a single-flute drill, our NEOLOGIQ LOGIQ3CHAM drill offers 66% more feed rate at the same speed, or 33% more than a two-flute drill. When we launch a product, we immediately assign another team of development engineers to better it. We never stop.”

This strive for innovation continues within Iscar’s digital solutions: “The world is more efficient due to the development of online and digital tools,” adds Mr Jones.

“Iscar World is the virtual ‘one-stop shop’ app that features all of the company’s online apps, interfaces and product catalogues in a single space,” he continues. “We’re also proud to introduce the ever-inspiring Iscar Digital Tool Advisor under its new brand name, NEO-ITA, which is the most advanced tool advisor now available.”

NEO-ITA features advanced AI and Big Data analytics using a machine learning engine to help Iscar customers contend with the most complicated machining tasks and challenges, while assuring highly advanced machining and tooling technology recommendations.

The company is also keen to highlight its LOGIQ-E-COMM web shop, an online ordering system for cutting tools and inserts.

“LOGIQ-E-COMM links with our electronic catalogue and ITA so that you can acquire up-to-date information, knowledge and support while you shop online,” explains Mr Jones.

Turnkey solutions

Iscar also has a team of project engineers who work with major machine tool suppliers on turnkey installations.

“If we can provide a service that improves a major installation, the potential rewards are fairly obvious,” says Mr Jones. “Our levels of innovation and our people can make a genuine difference. Of course, it’s very tough to find the right skill sets at present. We’ve had a number of vacancies this year and sometimes it seemingly takes an age to fill them, but it’s the same for every company unfortunately.”

Looking to the near-term future, Iscar UK plans to hold regular, two-day Open House events, possibly once a quarter.

“If people want to find out more about Iscar – our technologies, our services and our technical partners – please come along,” says Mr Jones. “We tend to make each Open House different in theme. For instance, one might have a focus on the machining of high-temperature alloys or some other difficult-to-machine material. We always make sure there is a benefit for people giving up their valuable time, not just regarding cutting tools, but engineering concepts in general. We want people to go away thinking they learnt something.”

Moving forward, things will likely be tough, but Iscar UK is determined to find more growth.

“Yes, stability at Government level and on the world stage in terms of energy supply and so forth is important, but we’ll deal with it and plan accordingly,” concludes Mr Jones. “I started in 1995 when there was 42 people at Iscar UK; we now have 80. We always strive for year-on-year growth. Even when times are tough we tend to outperform the market.”

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