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Specialist honing subcontractors are a relatively rare breed but to find one that sells a comprehensive range of honing machines as well as all the consumables you’re ever likely to need is rarer still. Cheltenham-based Apperley Honing Machines really can provide the best of both worlds as Dave Tudor discovered.
In terms of its subcontract offering, Apperley Honing has a longstanding pedigree that stretches way back to 1963 when Theo Sanders and Peter Smith started the company. Today, Theo’s son Charles is at the helm and just to keep family traditions well and truly alive, Charles’ son Luke has recently started working for the company in the production control office. The operation makes effective use of some 20 fully commissioned honing machines (mainly Sunnen, Delapena and Barnes) capable of honing bores from 3mm to 750mm in lengths up to 17m in virtually any material. From its facility in Cheltenham, the company employs around 14 highly skilled members of staff – many of whom have been with the company for over 20 years.
In 2008 Mr Sanders set-up Arthur-Sanders with David Arthur, managing director of honing equipment specialist Delapena – which also, at the time operated a subcontract honing service. “This venture made sound business sense,” recalls Mr Sanders. “We took over Delapena’s subcontract honing business and the new company was formed to handle the buying and selling of quality used honing machines and related equipment. Of course we use honing machines in our own subcontract business so the arrangement worked very well as we had access to a number of quality used machines as they became available – many from Delapena’s own range.”
Supply and service from a single source
In November 2010, Mr Sanders acquired a 100% shareholding of the Arthur-Sanders company and Apperley Honing Machines was born. The arrangement suited both parties – Delapena could focus on its main business of selling new machines whilst Apperley incorporated the used machine business into its own operations.
“The two arms of the business now are inextricably linked,” Mr Sanders observes. “The new company name Apperley Honing Machines represents a single source for quality used machines, subcontracting services, consumables and support.
“In reality it’s often an evolutionary process,” he continues. “Customers will start working with us purely on the subcontract side but then if business levels increase it often reaches a point where it becomes economically viable to buy their own machine and start manufacturing in-house. Brand new honing machines are traditionally very expensive so we can offer a used machine option.
“But the service doesn’t stop there,” he adds. “After nearly half a century in the business we’ve learnt a thing or two about honing and we can use that knowledge to help our customers overcome their own manufacturing conundrums. Not only that, we can provide a wide range of consumables and also support them from a capacity perspective during busy times. We believe that this total service offering is somewhat unique in the honing fraternity and virtually unheard of in the used machine market.”
It is indeed an all encompassing package and provides a number of benefits. Consider a customer that has purchased a used machine from Apperley Honing Machines. Before the installation takes place at the customer’s premises, the machine can be trialled and proved at Apperley’s factory on actual ‘real life’ batches and production runs. The customer can send an operator to spend a few days learning how to operate the machine at Apperley’s premises under the watchful eye of its engineers and then once everyone is happy, the machine can be moved lock, stock and barrel to the customer’s factory for installation. Try before you buy is a phrase that springs to mind.
But if changing the company name, moving to new 9,600ft² premises early in 2011 and expanding the business to cover the sale and support of used honing machines wasn’t enough, Mr Sanders is on the cusp of another brand new business venture – the design and manufacture of brand new honing machines. “It’s something that David Arthur and I were considering undertaking under the Arthur-Sanders banner but since I acquired the business it has now become an Apperley Honing Machines project,” Mr Sanders explains. “There’ll be no conflict of interest with Delapena because we’ll only be manufacturing tube hone machines.”
Although the project is very much in its infancy Apperley has already bagged an order for a customer based in Singapore for two large scale, 30kW, 10m stroke length tube honing machines. Manufacture is already underway with the first machine due for delivery in August and the second due in October. “This is a real departure for us,” Mr Sanders enthuses. “In fairness we have dabbled with our own range of machines in the early days of the company but this is the first time we’ve considered it as a serious, viable arm of the business.”
Mr Sanders believes that the company’s new tube hone machines will be equipped to go head to head with best products from the USA and Germany (such as Sunnen, Barnes and Nagel) in terms of metal removal rates – but at an affordable price. “The problem with tube hones is that used models are relatively rare and new machines can be extremely expensive – upwards of £250,000,” he reveals, “and for this reason they’re usually prohibitively expensive for small to medium sized subcontract companies.
“Our designs, whilst conforming to all the latest health and safety regulations, have dispensed with expensive hydraulic systems and instead use high performance electronic drives making them much more cost-effective. It’ll be another string to our bow and will complement the subcontract and used machine elements of our business perfectly. At the moment our overall business is weighted 60/40 towards subcontracting but in the near future we anticipate a more balanced 50/50 split between subcontracting and new and used machine sales.”
Although the new machines will all feature the same basic chassis, control, layout and electronic infrastructure, they will be available in three different power rating options: 5kW, 8kW and 15kW which, thanks to a dual motor design can be effectively doubled up to 10kW, 16kW and 30kW respectively. A wide range of stroke lengths can be accommodated – 2m, 4m, 8m and 10m.
On the subcontract side, unlike many of its competitors that also offer deep hole drilling services, Apperley Honing Machines focuses entirely on honing – specifically hand honing, tube honing and tube polishing (contour honing). As Mr Sanders eloquently puts it: “We don’t make holes – our skill is making them look nice and dimensionally accurate.” By way of definitions, hand honing is the generic term given to the honing of small parts up to around 50mm diameter and is usually carried out on benchtop type machines. Parts are stroked back and forth either by hand or via automatic fixtures. Tooling for these types of machines is usually provided by Sunnen or Delapena.
Tube polishing – also known as contour honing – is used to remove weld beads from seamed tube and is a two stage process which polishes the inside surfaces of stainless steel tube and aluminium extrusions via a flexible abrasive to a surface finish as fine as 0.15µm Ra – and no, you can’t see the join! Tube honing is used when both accurate sizing and excellent surface finish is critical. For extra long tube, up to 15m long, Apperley can hone from both ends, producing an invisible blend from end to end. Via this process, bore tolerances as tight as H8 can be maintained making it particularly suitable for applications such as hydraulic cylinder tubes and down hole oilwell products.
“The fact we specialise in all honing disciplines means our work can be very diverse,” Mr Sanders states. “On the hand honing side, we’ve recently completed an order for an automotive customer which involved honing 30,000, ¼ inch diameter turbocharger bushes a week over a period of five months. At the other extreme we recently honed 20 off 8 inch diameter cylinder bores for an oil and gas customer based in Aberdeen.”
The diversity is far reaching. A case in point is Apperley using its contour honing expertise for an order that involves polishing the insides of storage bottles and distribution pipes for specialist gases and the semiconductor manufacturing industries. Using this process Apperley, is able to polish the bores of very thin wall tubes, removing a minimal amount of material so as to achieve the required surface finish.
Widening the net
Very much a forward thinking company, Apperley Honing Machines realised long ago that whilst the home market is vitally important, enhancing its export business would be key to future growth and prosperity. “Probably our greatest marketing asset is our website,” Mr Sanders says. “All our used machines for sale are listed and we take the time and trouble to maintain it regularly and try and make it as user friendly as possible. It does bring in a lot of enquiries and we believe it provides the ideal platform to present our business to prospective customers.”
The stats would tend to agree. Nearly a third of Apperley’s machine sales are to overseas clients with the figure rising steadily.
Apperley Honing Machines
One of the nice things about doing this job is that I often get to find out what people did in past lives and in this regard Mr Sanders’ exploits will surely take some beating – until 1994 he was chief engineer, mechanic and warm up act for none other than former motorcycle stunt rider, Eddie Kidd. It’s tragic reality that Mr Kidd is now paralysed and brain damaged following a serious accident in 1996 – but that makes his recent achievement of completing the London Marathon in 43 days even more remarkable. “The man is a true inspiration,” Mr Sanders declares. “He’s raised over £75,000 for Children with Leukaemia and his own Eddie Kidd Foundation Charity. We actually made Eddie’s walking frame that he used for the event – something that we’re very proud of.”