Ceratizit unveils new Technical Centre in Sheffield

As the skills shortage bites deeper and companies get busier, manufacturers are relying more on their respective supply chains to provide additional help and support. For Ceratizit UK & Ireland’s customers, that much needed assistance comes in the form of a brand-new Technical Centre, located on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield. Dave Tudor went along to the grand opening.

Different customers require different things from their tooling suppliers. Some simply need standard off-the-shelf products while other may need customised solutions that are far more complex.

Ceratizit ticks both boxes. For the former, orders placed before 6pm are received next day, and for the latter, well that’s where the Technical Centre kicks in, providing all-encompassing support for customers from a process optimisation perspective when they simply don’t have the time – or perhaps the expertise – to do it themselves. Project and turnkey work will no doubt be high on the agenda. Tech Centres are a big deal for the Ceratizit Group – there’s a total of nine located across Europe.   

Rewinding a little, Ceratizit UK & Ireland has actually owned a Tech Centre for more than 10 years. Previously, it was part of its main facility on the Sheffield Business Park and unquestionably it has served the business well over the past decade or so. However things change. Ever-increasing demand meant that the company literally outgrew its former capacity so it was time to expand the operation. The first challenge to overcome was finding a suitable location.

“We definitely wanted to find a site on the Advanced Manufacturing Park close to the AMRC,” explains Tony Pennington, managing director, Ceratizit UK & Ireland. “Apart from the fact that it really is the place to be in terms of technology and innovation, we’re also very proud of the fact that we have three apprentices that have been trained through the University of Sheffield/AMRC apprenticeship programme. Two have already graduated with the third close to doing so. It has worked fantastically well,” he adds. “We have a really nice blend of young talent and experience within the business.”

Complementary skillsets

The core team running the new Tech Centre does indeed combine youthful exuberance with battle hardened tooling expertise. It also shows strong family ties within the company.

Ceratizit project sales engineer Stephen Pennington at the controls of the XYZ UMC-5X 5-axis machine in the new Technical Centre
Ceratizit project sales engineer Stephen Pennington at the controls of the XYZ UMC-5X 5-axis machine in the new Technical Centre

Technical manager Shaun Thornton and project sales engineer Tony Gale with literally decades of industry knowledge between them represent the voice of experience. Conversely, Rob Thornton (Shaun’s son), Stephen Pennington (Tony’s son) and Alex Humberstone characterise the dynamic, highly technology-driven, multi-disciplined skillsets that the engineers of today (and tomorrow) will undoubtedly require in spades. Combined, it really is the best of both worlds.  

“We think the new Tech Centre will be instrumental towards us working more closely with our customers to optimise their processes and ultimately help them become more productive and profitable,” Mr Pennington enthuses.

“So we’ve tasked our technical sales engineering team with finding work that will really put the centre and its staff to the test. That could be a brand-new part where the customer provides a drawing and we develop a detailed full-blown proposal on how to manufacture the component in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. Or it could be optimising the manufacturing process on an existing part. In both cases, it’ll give customers the confidence of actually seeing the process up, running and working before they take it in house.”

The new facility will predominantly serve the UK market, but as Mr Pennington has responsibility for Ceratizit’s entire Northern Europe territory, geographically it will also support Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia. Generally, as well as helping customers become more productive, it will also handle staff (and customer) training and the testing of new tools and products.

The original plan for Tony Pennington and his team was to move the whole business into a new, purpose-built 20,000ft² facility and bring everything together. But then COVID-19 struck and forced a rethink. “We had to cut our cloth accordingly,” he recalls. “We invested significantly in our main facility to make it safe for our employees and, testament to the hard work of all our staff, had everyone physically back at work by May 2020.

“In terms of the Technical Centre, we found this 5,000ft² building last year and it’s ideal. It’s important to note however that the leases on our main building and the Tech Centre expire in five years’ time. After that, we’ll be looking for a greenfield site to consolidate everything under one roof and take things to the next level.”

Tony Pennington
Tony Pennington

Partners in production

Ceratizit UK & Ireland has enjoyed a close working relationship with Devon-based XYZ Machine Tools for more than 15 years. This is no surprise. I’ve known their managing directors Tony Pennington and Nigel Atherton for a long time and there’s an obvious natural synergy between the two both as individuals and the way they run their respective businesses.

Both are progressive and very forward thinking; both have nurtured highly successful teams around them; both share the same philosophy of providing high quality products coupled with exemplary customer service; and importantly, both recognised from day one that cutting tools and machine tools are inextricably linked when it comes to optimising manufacturing processes.

With that in mind, the new Tech Centre will serve not only as a technical and training centre for Ceratizit, but also as a demonstration and training facility for XYZ to showcase machines and provide customer training in a relaxed, practical environment.

There are no fewer than nine machine tools adorning the showroom floor at the Tech Centre. From the XYZ VMC stable there’s a 2010 HD, an 800 HD, a 500 LR with linear rail technology (XYZ’s bestselling entry-level VMC), and an SS65 turning centre with 5,000rpm sub-spindle and 65mm bar capacity.

Also from XYZ is a UMC-5X high precision, high speed simultaneous 5-axis machine for complex and multi-surface machining. An RMX 3500 bed mill and XYZ trainer lathe completes the line-up from the West Country supplier.    

Next up is an Integrex i-250H 5-axis multitasking machine from partner Yamazaki Mazak which combines turning with B-axis milling. One of the main reasons for this purchase was to accommodate Ceratizit’s revolutionary High Dynamic Turning (HDT) technology which uses FreeTurn tools driven by the milling spindle on turn/mill centres. Fundamentally, HDT needs a B- and C-axis to operate.   

Here, the tool cuts both ways and can be adjusted 360° for optimal use in every position of the workpiece, facilitating the flexible machining of just about any workpiece contour. HDT with FreeTurn tools will make a big impact on the manufacture of turned parts in the future once it gains traction. The hardware is in place; third parties developing the programming software is proving to be somewhat more challenging however – but things are moving rapidly in the right direction.

Open for business: Nigel Atherton (centre left), XYZ Machine Tools’ managing director and Tony Pennington, Ceratizit UK & Ireland managing director performing official ribbon cutting duties
Open for business: Nigel Atherton (centre left), XYZ Machine Tools’ managing director and Tony Pennington, Ceratizit UK & Ireland managing director performing official ribbon cutting duties

A third partner in the evolution of the new Tech Centre is Derby-based sliding head turning centre specialist Star GB – another successful business that Ceratizit has developed a close working relationship with over the years. This is evidenced by the presence of an SR-20JII Type A machine in the new facility, complete with six tool turning platen, five spindle cross-drilling unit and four spindle backworking toolpost.

Next level service

The Technical Centre’s official opening day in October was met with unbridled enthusiasm from over 100 companies who sent along representatives to investigate just what this state-of-the-art centre had to offer. For Tony Pennington it represents an ethos that runs through the very heart of the Ceratizit organisation.

“At the end of the day, we may be a €2.3 billion, highly successful privately owned company, but our mantra is ‘think global, act local’ so getting close to our customers and helping them with their manufacturing processes is vitally important.

“People like to deal with people. Having the new Tech Centre located at the heart of our day-to-day business means we can respond much more quickly and efficiently to our customers’ needs.”

Ceratizit UK & Ireland

XYZ Machine Tools

Yamazaki Mazak

Star GB

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