French & Son is a household name in Heathfield, Sussex as for over three generations it has served the local community with garage and taxi services. While these businesses continue to thrive, fourth generation Charlie French is looking in a different direction to keep the family business expanding, making full use of his motorsport connections.
Charlie’s involvement with motorsport, including assisting in the pits as a mechanic for some Rally Cross teams, as well as racing his own bright green Ford Escort mk2 at track days led him away from the family businesses to work for engine builder and British Rally Cross Champion Julian Godfrey, whose engineering company is just up the road from French & Son Engineering. After eight years with Julian, Charlie had become familiar with the operation of the XYZ machines used so, with the support of his father Stuart, decided to set up his own manufacturing business.
We saw an opportunity through Charlie’s racing activities to create a small business based around motorsport where we could provide a fast response to people who needed parts after a race weekend.
Initially focussing on supplying aftermarket parts for car and motorcycle enthusiasts, French & Son Engineering took space in a local industrial unit and invested in an XYZ 710 VMC vertical machining centre. That was in February 2016. Since then the reputation of Charlie French and his ability to problem solve and add value to existing components, has brought him to the attention of several businesses who are putting work his way. Evidence of this is the work in progress board in the office, which is looking busy. “We saw an opportunity through Charlie’s racing activities to create a small business based around motorsport where we could provide a fast response to people who needed parts after a race weekend. This quickly developed as word spread and we are now not only producing one-off replacement parts, but also manufacturing batch quantities for customers, one of which has committed to a sole machining agreement with us,” says Stuart French.
We knew we had to hit the ground running when we set up this business,” says Charlie French, “so the choice to go with XYZ was an obvious one due to my familiarity with the machine and control system and their ease of use.
The choice of XYZ Machine Tools for French & Son’s move into machining was influenced by Charlie’s experience with Julian Godfrey. In terms of experience Charlie is virtually self-taught in both CADCAM and machine operation. Up until purchasing the XYZ 710 VMC he had received no formal training and even now has only taken two of his allocated training days from XYZ on the new machine. The XYZ VMC is central to the XYZ VMC range and provides impressive capability at a very competitive price. As standard it is equipped with a 20 hp, 8000 revs/min, BT40 spindle axis travels of 710 x 450 x 500 mm, with performance enhanced through use of a 4000 kg solid ribbed casting in its construction.
“We knew we had to hit the ground running when we set up this business,” says Charlie French, “so the choice to go with XYZ was an obvious one due to my familiarity with the machine and control system and their ease of use. To start with we had looked into buying a used machine, but the cost difference between what was on offer and a new machine that would come with warranty and the support of XYZ made the choice to buy new an obvious one to take. We were also able to specify the addition of Renishaw probing from XYZ, which has made a significant difference to how we use the machine and has reduced set-up times and costs considerably, as it reduces the requirement for specialised fixturing.”
Buying a new machine has had its benefits, with Charlie calling on the expertise of XYZ’s applications team as he pushes the limits of the machine’s capabilities, he has already machined parts for a prestigious automotive customer that are larger than the machine envelope through ingenious engineering. Only six months into the new enterprise the future looks good for the next generation of French & Son, with talk already turning to a relocation to larger premises, employing an additional machine setter operator and plans afoot for investment in more machining capacity in the form of an XYZ lathe and the retrofitting of a fourth axis capability to the XYZ 710 VMC.
“We know we have a long way to go, but our plans are to achieve more in the next 12 to 18 months in order to allow us to carry out our expansion plan,” says Charlie French. “In addition, we hope to develop our own product range by enhancing existing aftermarket motorsport parts, developing them to improve their performance and longevity for customers. For our business to business expansion, we see our ability to work with customers to enhance their current products by helping to reduce weight, improve performance and lower manufacturing costs.
(Above) Charlie French is building a successful motorsports machining business starting with an XYZ 710 VMC.
(Above) Parts longer than the machine table, such as this cam cover for the Eagle E-Type are being produced thanks to innovative set-up by Charlie.
(Above) The use of Renishaw probing on the XYZ 710 VMC is reducing costs and set-up times.
(Above) Work for French & Son Engineering is a mix of one off and economical small batch production.