Celebrating its 50th year of business next year, one of the founding partners and company chairman at Ernest Bennett (Darlington) Ltd puts the company’s success down to the hard work and support of his family, long serving staff and a strategy of heavy re-investment in technology.
As Ernest Bennett (Darlington) Chairman, Mr Rob Maxey recalls: 'The Company was formed by my uncle Ernest Bennett and I with nothing more than a grinder and a file in my hand. Now, we have over £3m of machine tools, a high percentage of it being from Vollmer, some that are robotically loaded to run unmanned overnight. Times have certainly changed since 1964.'
Since its inception, the County Durham based company has evolved to be the leading manufacturer and supplier to the UK and Republic of Ireland and export to many countries in the provision of Bandsaw blades, TCT & HSS circular saw blades, wood cutter blocks for profiling and profile knives and more recently solid carbide spirals and routers for the wood and metal cutting sectors.
As the regions’ leading manufacturer and service centre, Ernest Bennett (Darlington) has continually expanded to fill its current six and a half acre site, a facility of over 40,000sq/ft with 54 staff. The company includes a number of achievements through its 50-year history that have guaranteed its success. We are proud of our zero redundancies, a significant number of our staff with over 25 years company service and a continuous rigorous apprenticeship scheme that has been on-going since the company’s inception. Which has always taken account of any loses of personnel and can quickly be transferred from the apprenticeship scheme in to full one to one training by skilled personnel.
Despite the company chairman and his wife, Iris Maxey, taking a back seat, although both full time working, the next generation of the Maxey family have taken over the reigns through sons David and Simon, the Managing Director and Financial Director respectively – the company retains its longstanding relationship with Vollmer machine tools. As the Managing Director of Ernest Bennett, Mr David Maxey comments: 'The first Vollmer machine acquired was in the early 1960’s, a wide bandsaw tensioning machine. This was followed by a sharpening machine; a circular plate saw machine and then a TCT sharpening machine. A major turning point for us was the move from swaged bandsaws to stellite tipped bandsaws. We were the first and UK’s frontrunner using automated technology for the manufacture of stellite tipped wide band saws using the first Vollmer machines and support.'
Over the years, the company has purchased and tirelessly used Vollmer technology in there manufacturing processes, until the technology evolves. At this point, the business buys the next level of technology to improve its quality and product portfolio – always staying ahead of the competition. With 60% of Ernest Bennett’s turnover arriving from the production of 60 to 300mm wide bandsaw blades, the company was the first in the UK to invest in Vollmer’s automatic RC100 bandsaw tensioning and levelling machine in 1998. Now running a number of RC100 machines and looking at the next generation model, Ernest Bennett have 40 machines for processing bandsaw blades, mainly Vollmer.
As David Maxey continues: 'As a manufacturer and service centre we have a fleet of delivery vehicles, including 7.5 tonne lorries, delivering to our customer base on a daily or weekly schedule. To accommodate such punishing delivery schedules, we have invested heavily in dedicated computerised scheduling software and a purpose built loading bay. Our investment in logistics underlines our commitment to servicing the customer base. However, like any business that has a relentless commitment to supplying its client base with such frequency, we are heavily reliant on the up-time of our machine tools and the quality they produce. To this end, the Vollmer service and support team give us unparalleled confidence levels in their ability to minimise any downtime and issues that may arise with our machines.'
With the growth of the company’s circular saw blade business, Bennett’s have in recent years moved from Vollmer’s manually loaded TCT sharpening machines to robot loaded cells that feed the grinding centres. The first robot loaded equipment was installed with a CHD250 grinding machine in 2005. The additional capacity and labour saving was exceptional. As Bennett's run one shift per day, the installation enabled the company to manufacture TCT blades unmanned for 14-15 hours a day as well as the 8 hour manned shift. This increased capacity, profitability, reduced labour costs and enabled the company to 'future proof' its pricing policy.
The success of this equipment made such an impact that the innovative business installed a more sophisticated cell in November 2012. The new cell consists of a Vollmer ND250 loading station that has five loading stacks to feed a Vollmer CHF270 side grinding machine and a Vollmer CHD270 top and face grinding machine. The new cell is recognised as a UK first with the set-up being able to fully machine new and service blades automatically.
As Mr Maxey continues: 'This cell was a significant investment for us and again marks a UK first in the acquisition of Vollmer technology. The new cell automatically checks all tooth angles and geometries and grinds our new blades as well as blades that are returned for servicing and re-grind operations. The ability of the new Vollmer cell to automatically check, grind and polish all top side and face angles has further improved our process capability and product quality beyond that of our competitors. Astonishingly, we can completely mix the stacks with new and re-grind blades and just turn the lights out. The following morning the stacking system will be filled with all the new and re-ground TCT blades ready for delivery to the customer.'
As the CHD and CHF machines automatically measure the teeth and geometry on each blade prior to processing and also re-sharpen and re-calibrate the grinding wheels, the precision and quality of each and every blade is beyond customer expectations. By measuring the blade size and geometries, the grinding centres automatically allocate the correct program for each blade to ensure re-ground blades match the quality of new blades. To identify the blades during the grinding process, Bennett's have invested in a laser etching machine to individually identify all the blades the company manufacture.
As Mr Maxey concludes: 'The latest Vollmer cell has taken our business to a new level with regard to TCT saw blades. The quality, precision and consistency of our TCT blades are second to none and this improves performance for the end user. Furthermore, the Vollmer cell has improved our efficiency, delivery lead-times, process capability and reliability whilst reducing our labour and production costs. Working with Vollmer for almost half a century has paid dividends for Ernest Bennett's and we are sure Vollmer will be part of our success going forward.'