By John Marshall, Technical Manager at WDS Components
From casters to handles, the industry of components, standard parts and machine accessories has remained relatively stable in its product offering for nearly 70 years. This is for good reason, as the design concepts behind many of these parts remain as important today as they were in the past, whether used in a food production plant or to tune a modern camera tripod.
New product designs and materials have emerged since WDS Components was founded in Leeds in 1952, originally called the Woodside Die Sinking Company, but the most significant changes have been in manufacturing and design processes. The importance of these practices has enabled customers to design, manufacture and market their products faster and at more competitive prices. To keep pace with customer demands, WDS has evolved its technology and practices accordingly.
Perhaps the most significant development was the automation of production. In the beginning, WDS used hand-operated lathes, which formed the basis of metal cutting technology. Automatic lathes for plug-in cards were the next advancement before the emergence of computer numerical control (CNC) technology as we know it today, with WDS investing heavily from the mid-1990s. enabled not only automated mass production, which contributed to greater product availability at lower cost, but also increased production consistency, which reduced waste and improved the manufacturing quality of the final product . This is crucial for OEMs supplied by WDS that require standardized production at sites around the world.
Today’s WDS CNC machinists are still trained in the skills needed to prove design concept, although modern software that provides aspects such as collision avoidance helps create a setup faster. At the same time, WDS retains its traditional lathe machine park and its know-how, which remains useful for the one-off or limited series manufacture of parts created on a manually operated machine.
Maintain in-house manufacturing capability
Despite the growth in the international supply of standard parts, WDS has continued to manufacture components locally by maintaining a highly skilled workforce and investing in the latest technology and manufacturing techniques. In 1999 WDS moved to its current location in Leeds, which today offers a modern, open manufacturing facility. Further development plans have ensured that in-house manufacturing capability will grow in the future.
On-site manufacturing allows for better inventory control, which means customers aren’t at the mercy of potentially long shipping times, especially for high-volume orders. On-site manufacturing also means greater control over product design, whether to meet customer demand and the ability to create bespoke items, or to create precise specifications developed by the R&D team at WDS. An in-house capability also ensures the quality of the design and the materials used, as well as greater confidence in the production and its control.
Combined with in-house manufacturing, WDS also partners with international suppliers when advantageous to maximize inventory volume, as well as for certain components not manufactured locally, such as plastic-based items. To improve inventory management, the WDS headquarters includes large warehouses, which allows the company to manage a high volume of inventory on almost all of its parts catalog of more than 20,000 parts. This allows for same day shipping on virtually all items, as well as competitive pricing.
Faster design and integration for customers
The way products are designed is the other biggest change in the industry of standard components and parts. Like all industrial companies of the time, WDS used the drawing board as a product design tool, but in the 1980s the company was an early adopter of computer-aided design (CAD) technology. ). For WDS, the introduction of CAD meant faster design, whether for entirely new products or new versions of existing designs. The benefit to customers was that it helped bring products to market faster and it greatly speeded up their process as CAD drawings from WDS could be integrated directly into their designs.
In the 1980s, customers received 2D CAD model drawings from the WDS catalog, published on 3.5″ floppy disks. The GUI allowed users to browse an on-screen catalog and upload DXF or DWG files 2D to integrate into designs in software packages such as AutoCAD Fast forward to the mid-1990s, WDS embraced 3D CAD when SolidWorks was first introduced and WDS kept pace with each software release through the Being positioned at the forefront of SolidWorks software and the supply chain has allowed WDS to work closely with some of the world’s largest engineering companies that are part of its customer base.
Today, WDS provides over 20,000 3D CAD images, covering nearly its entire product line, and these can be downloaded for free at wdscomponents.com. Compatibility is offered across a range of nine CAD packages, including niche automotive and aerospace packages.
In addition to CAD, over the past decade WDS has also introduced Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM) inspections to measure manufactured parts and components with the highest levels of accuracy. As well as improving manufacturing accuracy, especially for industries such as aerospace that demand exacting standards, it has given engineering customers greater confidence in their designs.
Global demand and fast supply
Thanks to the Internet, the business market for WDS has also changed and today the company exports all over the world. Carrying 98% of products in stock allows for same day shipping worldwide and some parts are even designed for a specific location, such as the range of inch items typically required for the North American market.
As wdscomponents.com provides tools to select and purchase single or high-volume orders of components anywhere in the world, and new technologies have enabled the company to manufacture more products, faster, customer demands of the industry remain largely the same. High quality, rapid availability and competitive prices remain the most important criteria. The combination of experienced staff and new expertise will enable WDS to deliver these benefits in the future.