Manufacturer bounces back from mid-life crisis to take on the globe
This is a story of glittering diamonds, an entrepreneur resting on his laurels and blades that can cut through steel quicker than you can say Mack the Knife, writes Mathilde Murphy, Trade & Information Team Manager at Enterprise Europe Network.
Around a decade ago, Peter Nicholson’s company C4 Carbides, a Cambridge-based blade manufacturer, had cracked America and was chugging along nicely with a turnover of £3m a year. But the industry was moving fast and Peter had a simple choice: innovate or stagnate.
“When I set up the company many years ago, I was very creative and imaginative,” explains the C4 Carbides founder and CEO. “But when people start to think a lot of themselves they stop looking outside the box. Innovation started to scare me.”
A meeting with John Christopher from the Enterprise Europe Network in 2009 reignited Peter’s entrepreneurial streak, tapped into grants that led to ground-breaking R&D, patents and products, and helped treble his turnover.
A key introduction was to the University of Hertfordshire, enabling Peter to inject academic rigour into his engineering team: “You’re forced into making certain that your project really is new rather than something already invented 20 years ago in Germany.”
The result was a revolutionary hard metal blade, coated in diamonds, creating a cutting edge with unprecedented resilience.
“John helped to reignite the company, introducing me to grants and inviting me to various functions. Without that I don’t think the company would be revived.”
C4 Carbides is now a truly international business selling its revolutionary blades to the United States, Japan, China, Switzerland and across Europe. Nicholson is now working on his next big breakthrough: 3D printing of ‘smart teeth’ made from functionally graded super abrasive materials. And with this market estimated to be worth £2.5bn globally, he plans to grow his company’s turnover from £11m today to £70m over the next decade.
60-second briefing: C4 Carbides
What is C4 Carbides?
A Cambridge-based manufacturer of power tool accessories and industrial cutting and machining equipment, established in 1985 and employing 40 staff.
What’s so special about the company’s products?
Its blades are coated in super abrasives- tungsten carbide and synthetic diamonds. These blades can cut through cast iron four times faster than tungsten carbide-only products.
Who does C4 Carbides sell to?
Many of the world’s leading power tool brands for like Makita, Bosch, and Black and Decker.
How is the company innovating to stay ahead?
It’s pushing the envelope in ‘linear edge brazing technology’ by developing 3D printing of ‘smart teeth’. This will enable brands to rapidly develop and market bespoke products at short notice.
Helping ambitious businesses grow internationally
Enterprise Europe Network in the East of England is delivered by two partners, Exemplas and St John’s Innovation Centre. To find out more telephone 0845 641 9955, email enterprise.europe [at] eeneast.org.uk or visit www.enterprise-europe.co.uk
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Peter Nicholson, co-founder and CEO of C4 Carbides