Thame Workholding’s history reaches back to 1946 when it began life as a subcontractor, offering its machining services to businesses who needed manufacturing services. As business grew the management team realised that it needed products to develop its own brand and those products were chuck jaws. The TEC (Thame Engineering Company) brand was born along with the TEC Diamond mark that is used on every product made since. Today the mark still represents British made products manufactured to the highest quality and they are proud to be able to use the ‘Made in Britain’ collective mark along with a fully registered trade mark.
Today, the manufacturing pedigree is as strong as ever spanning the design and manufacture of standard and bespoke chuck jaws, accessories, workholding equipment, and fixtures in-house from its 1200m² facility in Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire. Its routes to market are basically threefold: directly; through a tried and trusted distribution network; and via its recently launched online webshop.
Mark Thomas is a relatively new recruit to Thame Workholding having held the position of managing director for just three years. His co-partner in the business is manufacturing engineering director Mark Randall, a former Mazak applications engineer who had worked with the previous Thame owners.
“I’ve always been inspired by British manufacturing and Mark knew that previous owners were looking for someone to ultimately take over the business,” Mr Thomas explains. “British manufacturing is something I’m 100% passionate about and I’ve actually walked away from businesses that have decide to shift their manufacturing operations overseas. It simply isn’t my ethos at all. Thame had established, longstanding, globally renowned products, designed and made in the UK and that ticked all the boxes for me.”
Rather than reinventing the wheel, once the new team were in the driving seat it was decided to focus the business on what it did best – designing and manufacturing a wide range of soft and hard chuck jaws comprising serrated, slot and tenon, T-nuts, scroll, multi-point rocker, and quick-change variants for engineers worldwide.
Mr Thomas acknowledges that the timing of his joining the business and subsequent acquisition may appear to have happened at the worst time because it was in the middle a pandemic. However, it did buy us time to evaluate the way forward; we looked at how to increase productivity and make production more efficient and cost-effective as well as evaluating best routes to market.
“The quieter period that were experienced through the COVID pandemic enabled us to build up really healthy levels of stock,” Mr Thomas acknowledges. “In the past, supplying products on short lead-times was a problem because we had no real stockholding. Now, I like to think of Thame as the ‘go to’ company for the supply of chuck jaws.”
Taking over any business always carries an element of risk – especially in the middle of a global pandemic – but he believes it was the right decision. “We’re growing month on month and the things about this business that are worth their weight in gold are the 25 loyal, highly skilled members of staff we have and the fact that TEC is an established brand people know and recognise.”
“All TEC products that the company has ever made – certainly over the past 50 years – carry the diamond mark – but they also carry a unique four or five digit product code that identifies the product” he adds.
“Customers call us for replacement jaws that we originally may have manufactured in the 1970s. Because of the product code we can identify exactly what the jaws are and the chances are we’ll have stock so we can ship them next day either via a phone order or through our webshop. We actually stock nearly 1,000 different types of chuck jaws on site”
“We can only achieve these levels of service because our products have real heritage – and, because of the way we identify what we make, there’s full traceability. It may surprise some people that we have in excess of 1,000 customers with around 25% of our business serving an export market that spans the entire globe.”
Thame Workholding’s stocking capability follows a tried and trusted method where products are categorised. The bottom line is that it can supply most chuck jaws from stock and where this isn’t possible, it can manufacture on demand. In these times of interrupted supply chains, the business has also been forward thinking with raw material and has ensured enough steel and aluminium is available to meet current and future orders.
Thame is also a specialist designer and manufacturer of bespoke chuck jaws, jigs, fixtures and associated workholding equipment. “In terms of volume, this type of work represents a smaller part of the company’s overall business, but this offering assists customers with workholding challenges and draws upon many years of experience we have” Mr Thomas advises.
“It may be something of a cliché,” Mr Thomas adds, “but with our bespoke work we really are an end to end workholding solution provider. Sometimes the client provides a drawing but often we get involved with projects at the very beginning, working closely with the customer through design, prototyping and production.”
In April last year, complete with a comprehensive chuck jaw finder plus data searchable by product type, Thame launched its online webshop which in essence was developed to replace traditional paper catalogues. If it’s in stock, product is shipped on a 24-hour delivery, which can be tracked.
“It’s still early days for the webshop and while it won’t be the best route for more technical enquiries, on standard products it’s working well allowing customers to search and order out of hours, safe in the knowledge that jaws will be shipped the following working day,” Mark Thomas concludes. “It’s been a colossal job getting all TEC products online, but I think it really simplifies and streamlines the ordering process for engineers and provided confidence that products will be delivered.”
Thame also has exclusive distribution agreements with: German workholding specialist HWR Spanntechnik , who offer solutions in milling clamping and zero-point technology and clamping systems which can deal with deformation susceptible components; Samchully in South Korea for power chucks, hydraulic cylinders, manual chucks, special chucks, vices and rotary tables; Witte Barkskamp vacuum workholding systems; and Rotor in Switzerland for revolving and dead centres. The most recent exclusive distribution agreements have been established with USA companies including Air Vise, Rapid Design Solutions and Versa Built Robotics. All three companies provide specific automation and robotic products allowing Thame Workholding to increase its portfolio as a UR Cobot certified system integrator for machine tending applications.
“On a final note if you are struggling to find a suitable workholding solution or need customised chuck jaws please call Thame Workholding, I’d be surprised if we could help in some way”