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How to exploit your tool grinding niche

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As a small company, you naturally specialise. Perhaps you started out as a regrinding shop but now you’re producing your own tools that can do the job even better. Maybe you began producing a range of endmills or drills, but customers have shown you they want a tool grinding specialist who can do a brilliant job of one specific product.
Because you have a narrower focus than a large-scale operation, you’ve become the expert – trying new approaches to improve the outcome for your customer. As your knowledge grows, you might be experimenting with tool geometry or manufacturing processes that you’ve not thought about before.  Perhaps it time to start thinking about really finding your tool grinding niche.

What is the benefit of a niche?

You don’t have to be good at everything to produce a few great products. Businesses that find a niche are able to service a smaller but more enthusiastic customer base. Having a very specialised offering makes you the expert, allowing you to invest in the best equipment, take the time to innovate and ultimately manufacture a better product in every respect.
Focusing your attention on one key area means honing a high-end product – one that customers may be willing to pay more for. In a crowded market having this differentiated product makes you visible against the competition.
If you’re worried that becoming a niche manufacturer sounds a bit risky, know that it’s possible to test the waters without risking the farm. Software solutions like ours can give you the flexibility to try new things without taking away your focus from existing contracts and customers.

Customers will likely guide you to your niche

How you fit into the market is mostly up to you. You might identify a specialised need for a certain type of tool, or for a particular industry. As you hone that specific manufacturing skill, you might find other applications for it that allow you to expand into complementary or similar components.
Finding those opportunities starts with your customers. Your existing relationships are already based on discussions about product needs and support. Talk to them about their upcoming projects and any challenges they are facing, then work together to find tailored solutions. The value goes both ways: your customers can help you better understand what the market wants, while they get something that fits their needs exactly.
Don’t expect to cover every possible variation or be tempted to extend beyond your capacity to produce.

Exploit your niche, finesse your offering and charge accordingly.

As a small company, you’re able to offer a personalised service bigger business can’t. You understand your customers’ needs. You sell the precise product they need to keep their operation running. They need you as much as you need them.
So being small can be your greatest selling point. You can adapt to the market as it changes and respond to demand. Where potential customers may be frustrated by businesses with long lead times, you have the ability to turn things around quickly and with more flexibility. Customers wanting something you don’t manufacture yet can even be an advantage. With the tools and flexibility to make it happen, you can easily expand your offerings and show them how well you understand your niche.
This kind of specialisation is hugely valuable to a business. You’re not only providing labour and materials but access to years of knowledge and refinement. It’s been shown that customers will pay more for specialised products that offer this level of added value.

Technology can help you keep up with demand

The time and labour involved in producing specials meant that in the past it was difficult to be competitive. With improved grinding capabilities and more intuitive software businesses can produce one offs or two offs faster. Furthermore, it dramatically increased the efficiency of the manufacturing process meaning for the first-time specials can be manufactured at a profit and with shorter lead times.
As you settle into your niche of manufacturing a product that others can’t provide, demand will start to increase. Automation can help you keep up:

Reducing changeover time

When you’re doing small batch runs, what becomes important is changeover time. You’re not setting one processes to run for the day; instead, you’re possibly grinding two, three or more different tools in a day, each requiring changes to machine setup. Smart machine design can help get each batch set up faster, reducing the time it takes to refill materials and reset machinery. Solutions include quick change tooling, wheel pack changers for automatic loading of wheel packs, and on machine automatic wheel qualification, which all work to reduce time wasted changing from one tool to another.

Technology makes maintaining quality easy – every time

When you’re producing smaller volumes for a narrower market, you have to know exactly what you’re doing. Getting the job done right requires precision and specialised knowledge. You might be concerned that this means you need highly specialised people to oversee output – something larger companies focused on volume orders might not have – but technology becomes a vital part of your highly skilled team without increasing head count.
With automated processes in place, you team can try new approaches without disrupting your entire production line:
  • Affordable and easy to program robots can take out significant costs, enabling lights out manufacturing and finishing repeatable tasks with ease.
  • Lasers or cameras can be used to automate tool measurement and in process compensation.
  • Sensors can check for thermal variations allowing machines to make in process compensation adjustments accordingly.
  • Flexible software can easily switch between processes, while greater access to data means you can strip out anything that’s no longer in demand, so you’re always running a tight ship.
  • Addition of on machine wheel balancing capabilities provides for superior tool surface finish.
  • Remote machine monitoring can warn you if issues arise during production.

Building a bank of IP

As your business evolves, your knowledge of special tool cutting will grow too. With a script for each tool you have successfully designed and ground you can automatically build a library of plans and processes. This helps reduce set-up times and programming errors from manual input. Having a bank of intellectual property means you can produce anything from your repertoire at the touch of a button even years later allowing you to offer even more value to your customers.
Success in a tool grinding niche of the future means being tech-savvy and open to ideas. Every day you work to service your customers’ needs is a chance to continuously improve and adapt. With a valued niche that’s based on real customer engagement, you should be able to deliver superior results that keep your customers coming back for more.


23 May 2019