The fact that the joinery sector accounts for around 50% of Leitz Tooling’s business goes some way to explaining why the company goes the extra mile for those customers.

Earlier this year the company saw the fruition of a decade-long project with the launch of its ThermoTech window system; the evolution of its window tooling system for joinery customers. This system enables any size joinery company to manufacture A-rated thermal, storm-proof, flush casement and traditional wood windows.

The system was developed, said Brian Maddox, sales manager for Leitz Tooling UK, in order to remove the burden of getting to grips with the plethora of regulations and standards from joinery companies, allowing them to concentrate on more productive manufacturing instead. The pay-off for Leitz Tooling is that this partnership pulls through more tools purchasing and servicing business.

Leitz Toolings’ own expertise in the sector is the result of a pedigree stretching back to 1876 when the Leitz Group was founded in Oberkochen in Germany by Albert Leitz, whose descendants still own it today. It is now the largest woodworking tool manufacturer in the world, with a multi-million euro turnover, 10 production facilities in Europe, America and Asia and 3,300 employees.

It’s active in all wood markets, manufacturing everything from saw blades, drills, router cutters, cutting blocks and so on, for market sectors including sawmills, furniture manufacturers, kitchen and bathroom manufacturers, and joinery companies. The group also provides a full range of tools for plastics, composites and insulation materials.

The UK company was set up in Tottenham in 1982 before moving to its current headquarters in Harlow in Essex in 1990. It’s from here and seven strategically located service centres that it runs its nationwide manufacturing and servicing operations.

Standard and custom-made
There are 8,000 standard products and this already eye-popping figure is augmented by "a substantial number of specials".

"Customers can send in a drawing or a profile and ask for a cutter to match it," said Derek Statham, UK service and works manager. "The information is loaded onto the Leitz CAD system and either sent straight to a CNC machine to produce the profile or a plastic template is made which then goes to a manual machine for grinding. We have 32,400 of these templates in stock and each has a code, which means it can easily be found for re-use. We also manufacture polycrystalline diamond (PCD) tipped tools in-house."

"Everything is manufactured to EN847 1 – 3, which means that every tool is tested to a high standard of accuracy and safety," said Mr Maddox. "It also prolongs the life of the tool and, ultimately, the machine itself.

"Our tools are sometimes perceived to be expensive but if, through quality and consistency of service, they last twice as long – and in many cases longer – than the alternatives, then it’s money well spent. We regularly hear of examples where customers were changing tools every shift; now it’s once per week."

Improving its customers’ productivity is one of Leitz Tooling’s primary motivations. The tools are optimised not just in terms of their geometry and setting-up time but also, for example, for noise reduction. And customers are supported by Leitz’s technical representatives, who have the expertise to look at an application to see if it is possible to improve productivity in any way.

This, in turn, is backed up by Leitz’s in-house testing facilities where most cutting scenarios can be replicated in terms of feeds, speeds and cutter orientation.

It is supporting its customers in the field in this way that led to the development of the window tooling system in the early 2000s.

"There seemed to be so many different styles, rebates and grooves that it was very confusing," said Mr Maddox.

"Every joinery company says their windows are different because they are bespoke but this puts tremendous pressure on productivity in terms of setting-up times. The only way you can increase productivity and reduce your manufacturing costs is by simplifying the process.

"We started to look at simplifying the different window elements, asking manufacturers if we could use one 18mm rebate rather than a 15mm or 17mm. Then we asked if we could use that 18mm rebate for three or four windows.

"Then we looked to see if we could find some consistency in the glass thickness, then using the same sash profile for all windows, and then at the fixing points on the inside of the frame – and so it went on."

As the demand for high-performance windows increased, so Leitz Tooling found its customers were asking not just for the tooling to manufacture windows to its designs, but for support on issues such as thermal performance and hardware.

Window expert recruited
A windows expert was needed and three years ago Richard Jacob joined the company as an application engineer. He then spent two years designing the ThermoTech window system, which was launched earlier this year.

The ThermoTech window system is a modular, all-in-one solution for joinery companies of any size to manufacture A-rated thermal, storm-proof, flush casement windows.

U-values are 1.4 or better and the designs are expandable for different hinges. The profiles on the system are easily changed, without the need to purchase extra tools and the system is available in multi-tool or dedicated sets for spindle moulders, tenoners, CNC machine centres and window machines.

It is scaleable and so caters for individual businesses’ changing requirements.

The system, which is suitable for CNC and classical machines, includes the design by Mr Jacob, who is a BFRC-registered simulator; the choice of a range of profiles; an 11-part adjustable tooling set; open/close joints and different profiles (possible with a simple change of knife); and thermal testing simulation to achieve A rating.

Bespoke designs
The system also allows for joinery companies to develop their own bespoke designs.

"We can offer them the ThermoTech package or they can give us the design they have already and we can simulate it on our in-house test rig to see if it comes up to current Building Regulations," said Mr Jacob.

"If it does, brilliant, and if it doesn’t we can offer alternatives to make sure it does meet them, not just now but in the future."

This future proofing is an important element to the service, he added. "A lot of the smaller joinery companies just don’t have the time to attend BFRC or BWF technical meetings and aren’t up to speed on forthcoming regulations – many of them were unaware of CE marking [being made compulsory under the Construction Products Regulation], for example.

"We know where regulations are going so we can keep customers abreast of them and steer them along the right path."

The ThermoTech window system also includes full technical support. "We set each tool up and show the customer how to do that and how to run each profile," said Mr Jacobs, adding that customers are struck by the simplicity of the process.

"Once you’ve set up a tool on a machine, if you want to replace it with another one it’s just a case of undoing a nut. We set up a tenoner and spindle moulder for one company in minutes and produced a window frame in under five minutes." He added that larger window frames take a little longer.

In addition to improved production efficiency – including the fact that the design and precision of Leitz’s innovative RipTec tools means that even sanding isn’t necessary – getting the cutting right first time reduces wastage and remedial work.

"The increase in material costs is so high that you can’t afford to rework material," said Mr Maddox. "And if you’re manufacturing a window, where tolerances are critical, and you have a problem when you come to fit it into the building, the costs to rectify can be horrendous."

Increasing interest
The system has been extremely well received. "In the last five or six months there has been definite interest in these systems and joinery companies have full order books beyond Christmas and are much more confident of investing," said Mr Jacob.

And, added Mr Maddox, customers looking to diversify and seek a competitive advantage are finding that it’s an investment that is well worth making.

"One of our customers bought three window systems and said the investment had paid for itself in three months," he said. "As fuel bills go up yet again, it makes sense that customers are turning to higher performance windows to keep their homes more fuel – and financially – efficient.

"The barometer for the next five years is that there will be a substantial swing towards wooden windows as more companies appreciate the life cycle analysis of wood over PVCu, together with the performance enhancements. From the householder, the motivation is more in line with the aesthetics of wood over other frame materials."

Leitz lessons
Every week Leitz Tooling hosts free tooling seminars for customers at its Harlow location and the new workshop, factory or production line tooling audits have been in great demand.

"With changes to European standards, manufacturers need to be confident their tooling meets the latest legal and safety requirements," said Mr Maddox. "We offer this, again at no charge, and one advantage over a visit from the Health & Safety Executive is that we can also advise on changes – sometimes as simple as a setting or feed speed – to increase productivity and energy efficiency, helping companies reach their green goals through process improvements."