An apprentice toolmaker is saving the world’s largest manufacturer of tools £40,000 a year after devising new processes to sustain a number of tools that would usually be scrapped. 

Gabriella Spencer is a second-year apprentice with Stanley Black & Decker at its Hellaby facility, which manufactures precision-engineered tools.

The 21-year-old, who is currently the only female engineer on the factory floor, is responsible for maintaining press, punch and die tools; operating machinery including mills, lathes and surface grinders; and making new parts for machinery such as moulding and chisel tools. 

A keen problem solver, Gabriella strives to look for ways to improve company processes.

She created a saving of £26,000 by reprocessing damaged carbide discs and provided further sustained usage, which now has the potential to save her company an additional £20,000 a year.

“I decided to make a jig for the carbide discs with three screws to hold it down on the grinding bed,” says Gabriella. “I grind the damage off on the surface grinder, then recut the groove on a lathe. The discs usually cost £220 each – but this process reduces the cost down to just £20 per disc, potentially saving £1,600 a month. There were also 120 old discs I was able to sustain.”

Gabriella was also tasked with a project to design and build product test equipment for plastic toolboxes. The project involved a variety of practical skills, including Computerised Numerical Control (CNC) machining, welding and fabrication. Her successful work on this project is set to save Stanley Black & Decker £12,000 per year in transport costs and one week of production lead time. 

In addition, Gabriella has polished up damaged socket chisels so they can be re-used instead of being scrapped, saving costs of £10 per chisel, as well as creating a process to weld up heater plates and aluminium cassettes in-house instead of them being shipped to an external company – reducing costs by £100 per week and speeding up production. 

“I’m always looking at ways to improve and save the company money,” she says. “I gain a sense of achievement when I identify an issue and make a positive contribution which addresses the problem.”

Gabriella, who comes from a family of manufacturers, began her apprenticeship with the University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre in September 2020 and is an advanced manufacturing and engineering apprentice.

Nikki Jones, Director of the AMRC Training Centre, says: “We’re really proud of the work our apprentices do, and Gabriella is a fine example of how an individual can make a real difference to their employer and help find new sustainable methods to improve our environment, something we need now more than ever. 

“The apprenticeships we offer help our students make those first steps towards learning the skills they need to gain full-time employment.”

Gabriella chose an apprenticeship for its structured training programme, equipping her to build a foundation of skills and expertise in the classroom, which she has then developed in a real working environment. 

“Doing an apprenticeship at the AMRC Training Centre has changed my life completely as it’s allowed me to become more independent. I also love that it gives me the opportunity to learn on the job.

“I really enjoy my work and I find it rewarding as I get to do something different every day and I’m always learning. I would love to see more women in engineering as I don’t know many. People are put off with the thought of heavy lifting, and a male-dominated environment – but everyone is so friendly and always willing to lend a hand.”

In the future, Gabriella plans to become multi-skilled, learn welding, mechanical maintenance and electrical skills - with the hope of also progressing into a hands-on leadership role, supporting young engineers of the future. 

Steve Ashforth, factory manager at Stanley Tools Ltd, can attest to how Gabriella has worked tenaciously through the most difficult of times with the pandemic and has impressed us with her work ethic and commitment to her education at the AMRC Training Centre.

He adds: “Gabriella has a thirst for knowledge and training, not only for the course and role of toolmaker, but also the skills outside of those required as she’s also volunteered for external courses, welding and first aid to name a few. 

“We’re confident in Gabriella’s potential in the role and sure that with further experience, she’ll become a fully rounded engineer and valued asset to the business.” 

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