25 Years of DKH – A Retrospective

On April 1, 2024, DKH officially celebrated its 25th anniversary. A significant moment to take a look back at the history of the Uden-based company with founder and former owner Francois van Hirtum. From its establishment in the shed at his parents’ house to the acquisition by Andra Tech Group in 2023.

Francois comes from an entrepreneurial family; his father and grandfather took on all kinds of odd jobs they could find. From making clogs to repairing bicycles, as long as it involved working with their hands. This exposure led Francois into entrepreneurship and engineering as well.

In 1985, after the construction of their house, Mrs. Van Hirtum decides it’s time to put an end to all those odd jobs and suggests to her husband that they start their own business, so that Mr. Van Hirtum can spend more time at home. And so it happened: DKH grinding service is established in Rosmalen. The name DKH is not chosen by chance; the company is located in the Rosmalen district ‘De Kromme Hoek,’ where the abbreviation DKH is frequently used by businesses and institutions, making it an easy choice for Mr. Van Hirtum. Francois, as an 11-year-old boy, is immediately involved in the business, and his interest is piqued. At a young age, he is allowed to perform tasks on the machines in the grinding shop. About 11 years later, in 1996, Mr. and Mrs. Van Hirtum move to a farmhouse in Overlangel, and the grinding shop moves with them. In fact, a new large shed is built next to the farmhouse for the grinding shop. During this time, Francois also becomes acquainted with CNC turning and milling alongside grinding at a metalworking company in Uden.

DKH Metaalbewerking

Due to a serious motorcycle accident, Mr. Van Hirtum has to take a step back from the business, which means that Francois, in addition to his full-time job in metalworking, has to keep the grinding shop running on his own. This turns out to be unfeasible, so the decision is made in the summer of 1998: Francois quits his job and, at only 24 years old, registers with the Chamber of Commerce, transforming DKH Grinding Service into a metalworking company. With the help of ‘Uncle Ad,’ who had been handling the grinding service’s administration for years, a business plan is made, essentially starting a small family business. However, a name still needs to be chosen for the new company. Following the advice of the Chamber of Commerce, changing the name from DKH Grinding Service to DKH Metalworking is free, unlike registering a new name, thus DKH Metalworking is born!

On April 1, 1999, DKH Metalworking is officially founded, and a few days later, the first machine is delivered. From that moment on, Francois hasn’t stopped working. After about a year, it becomes apparent that the shed at the farmhouse is too small, prompting a move to Ravenstein. The company grows, and by chance, Francois comes into contact with his former neighbor who is looking for a new challenge as a CNC miller. This marks the first employee of DKH! With new investments, the need for more personnel arises, leading to the hiring of 3 colleagues, and Mr. Van Hirtum also joins DKH full-time. The client portfolio expands, and after 3.5 years, DKH outgrows its space in Ravenstein as well. Thanks to a well-known real estate agent, Francois and his father have the opportunity to build a business premises in Schaijk that meets all their requirements, where DKH is ultimately located from 2003 to 2009.

Another move

In Schaijk, beautiful things are happening; more customers are being acquired, and the magical milestone of one million euros in revenue is reached. But then the financial crisis of 2008 hits, and DKH also faces some challenges. Francois perseveres, and after a slight dip in 2009, DKH continues to grow in 2010. Meanwhile, after another move, the company is now located in the building in Uden where it is still situated. In 2013, father Van Hirtum steps out of the business, and Francois becomes the sole owner. From that moment on, everything moves quickly. DKH started with about 15 employees in the Mandenmakerstraat in Uden, but with the growth of revenue, the number of employees also increases rapidly (as of 2024, there are nearly 40 people working at DKH).

No matter how much DKH grows, Francois still derives the most energy from being on the factory floor himself. Office work is not his cup of tea at all. This probably explains why the bond with the employees has remained very good over the years; Francois understands what they do and prefers to work alongside them. However, in 2022, there comes a realization that Francois’s time at DKH is coming to an end; he has lost his passion for technology due to the growth of his company. CNC turning is what he enjoys, managing is a necessary evil, and so DKH is put up for sale. Various parties express interest, but there is an immediate connection with Andra Tech Group. Francois is familiar with the other companies in the group and feels that the DKH DNA can be preserved within Andra Tech Group.

Now, over a year later, Francois can look from a distance at the developments at DKH. “What do I miss about working at DKH? Not much, actually. I think I chose the right moment to sell my company. Yes, the parties and the fun, I can miss that, but not the work.” Francois still visits DKH occasionally and looks with pride at what he has built and what is now being continued. “Especially now that I’m no longer involved, I see what a beautiful company I have been able to establish. DKH has changed its appearance with, for example, the new corporate identity, but on the inside, the DKH DNA remains the same. The staff has stayed and can now further develop as part of Andra Tech Group. I find that beautiful to see.”

Under Francois’s leadership, DKH has grown into a stable player in metalworking, and he sees plenty of opportunities for the company to take another step under the banner of Andra Tech Group. “There is still a lot of potential in the metal industry, and DKH can benefit from that together with Andra Tech Group.” Francois himself has every confidence that something will come his way again, something he will wholeheartedly commit to, just as he always did for DKH. But for now, he takes the time to unwind after all those years of hard work, preferably in Spain or on the golf course. Or a combination of both!