For HICI Ltd
, a designer and manufacturer of high-quality and innovative hand tools for joiners and carpenters under the TrigJig brand, 2020 posed a number of challenges. Indeed, the past 12 months saw the Newark-based company’s export markets contract due to concerns over Brexit and Covid-19, in part due to distribution issues, although strong growth in the UK compensated and turnover remained stable. That said, with those export markets now opening up again, 2021 is looking like being another year of growth for the business.
Dan Soanes-Brown, HiCi’s CEO, said: “At the end of 2019 sales had doubled compared with the previous year and we fully expected 2020 to be a similar story; and while Covid put paid to that, it did allow us to focus on processes and plan for the introduction of additional products.
“We are also seeing the release of a lot of pent-up spending within the UK construction industry; projects that were postponed are coming back and we are seeing that reflected in demand for our tools.”
It is anticipated that the strong growth expected for existing products will be complemented by an ‘ambitious schedule’ of one new product launch every month in 2021. The first two of these new products, a ‘Carpenter’s Square’ and a ‘T-Square’ have been the first to benefit from production on HiCi’s latest investment, an XYZ 750LR vertical machining centre — HiCi’s (the company’s) first machine from Burlescombe-based XYZ Machine Tools
When looking to supplement its existing machining capacity, which comprised two elderly vertical machining centres, HiCi looked at a number of options, with performance and reliability being the key criteria. With its 12,000rev/min spindle, Siemens 828D control, ‘optimised digital servos’ and linear rail construction, the 750 LR met these. Cost competitive
Price was also a consideration for HiCi, and here the 750 LR also came out favourably. Mr Soanes-Brown said: “Price is obviously important and there were three machines that we were looking at. However, the XYZ machine was the most competitively priced, and I couldn’t see where the extra £10,000 that the other machines would cost was going.
“Another factor was being able to see the machine in action, as XYZ Machine Tools was the only supplier we were considering that was able to demonstrate a machine of the specification we wanted. For a young company like ours it was important to see what we were spending our money on ‘in the flesh’.”
With the 750 LR installed and fully operational, HiCi is now reaping the benefits (rewards) as it is now doing the work of the two existing machines; and thanks to the higher spindle speed and CNC system, it is achieving much better surface quality and consistency. He continued: “Furthermore, the 750 LR’s reliability and performance are enabling us to plan much better; and once we have it running to 80% capacity we will order a second machine — again from XYZ and again with a Siemens control.
“Part of that decision is driven by the fact that we have taken on an apprentice, and he has quickly got up to speed with the machine and control; and while all of our part programs are written offline and fed directly to the machine via the RS232 port, standardising on one control system will help streamline manufacturing.”
The majority of parts manufactured at HiCi are produced from aluminium or stainless steel plate, with the machining processes involving multiple parts located in jigs and fixtures. Here, the 750 LR’s 830 x 410mm table and 750 x 440 x 500mm work envelope play a key role in maximising production, as do 20m/min feed rates, 18hp spindle and a 3,500kg substantial cast construction.
Nigel Atherton, XYZ Machine Tools’ managing director, said: “The linear rail machines have proved to be a valuable addition to our range, complementing our traditional box way machines and giving customers greater choice.”