Bob Kitchin and David Edwards (pictured) founded Wickford Mould and Tool Ltd in April 2009. Their life savings went into buying the plant and machinery from the liquidator of the company they had worked for, and they persuaded the landlord to let them have a go.
Bob said: “With injection moulding machines ranging from 22 tonnes to 480 tonnes we were ready for action, but all the customers had already recovered their mould tools so we recruited just one mould setter to support the fledgling tool making business. Clawing our way back, we’ve grown from five to nine employees and we take pride in the fact that two retirements have allowed us to recruit two school leavers into the mould shop, both keen to work and to learn.
“We run lean. Most business comes from existing customers whilst new business comes from referrals. We survive against global competition by fast and friendly service and the quality of work we do. Whether it’s a new mould tool that you want to run and run, or a patching up an old tool to make a few thousand components more, we work with you to achieve the best life cost option – ‘we thought your repair costs were expensive until we realised, we no longer have to send the tool back for repair’.
“Our tool-making business is mostly for automotive or healthcare applications. These sectors typically have the greatest quality and reliability demands. With some of our tools set to run 24/7 in cleanrooms, avoiding downtime is essential. Making tools for the chromed plastic surround for the rear light clusters of a prestige car was a special challenge – how to stop the component from distorting when being chromed. There is some amazing software available to study mould flow these days, but it’s still no match for an apprenticed toolmaker with thirty years of experience.”
David added: “In addition to tool design and manufacturing we offer CNC CAD/CAM and a range of turning, milling, spark and wire erosion, grinding and welding skills. In the mould shop we now offer two shot injection moulding and compression moulding.
“For customers who are torn between the cost of UK manufacturing and the delays and uncertainties of offshore manufacturing, we have formed a great working relationship with a toolmaker and moulder in China. We can arrange for tools to be made in China and either shipped to the UK or for components to be made in China. Our margin reflects the cost of absorbing the risk and we always check to tools on arrival in the UK.
“Eleven years on, we know what hardship means, but coronavirus took us all by surprise. We are so grateful for the support from the Government to allow us to furlough staff through the worst of the crisis when business fell to an all-time low. Just before we closed the factory in April for three weeks we completed a tool for PPE Shield headband in four days from order – our small contribution to help protect those dedicated to saving lives.”