Winning the tooling race

Uploaded 09 Apr @ 08:07am

In 2007, Tridan Engineering made a strategic decision to target prestigious aerospace contracts and steer away from commercial, agricultural and power generation subcontract machining. In the last five years, the Clacton-on-Sea company has invested heavily in infrastructure, accreditations and machine tools, that has certainly paid dividends in achieving its goals.
Celebrating 50 years in business, the Essex subcontractor has spent more than £2.5 million in the past two years with new acquisitions from Mazak, a 6-station Palletech automation system plus an additional three machines on order from XYZ. The investment in high-specification 4- and 5-axis machine tools and the ever-expanding variety of materials being machined prompted a strategic overview of its cutting tool strategy. In the two years since deciding to overhaul its tooling strategy, the AS:9100 accredited company has reduced its cutting tool suppliers from 14 to just two.
Discussing the logic behind consolidating its cutting tool vendors, Tridan Engineering’s Senior Production Engineer, Peter Townsend, says: “When it came to cutting tools, our shopfloor had no consistency or standardisation and staff would order new tools from one of our suppliers as and when they needed them. To consolidate our suppliers, we firstly wanted to eliminate a few of the smaller vendors that couldn’t support our diverse demands. Once we did this, we started 18 months of trials with many of the internationally recognised tooling brands. During the trial process, we were going beyond trialling one vendor against another based on the usual parameters of tool life, performance and cost reductions. We were looking at the complete package.
“We were reviewing the service and technical support, the rapport between our engineers and the tooling representative, the diversity of the product portfolio; and
of course the performance, consistency
and cost were always key parameters.
In fact, the arrival of a twin-pallet machine and a 6-station pallet machine means that reliable performance and longevity for lights-out running has become more prevalent than ever.”
During the trial period, ITC was fast emerging as the front runner to win the solid carbide round tooling business from Tridan. This preference emerged from the relationship between ITC’s Technical Sales Engineer, Gary Bambrick and the Tridan engineers and shopfloor machinists. However, with tooling manufactured in Tamworth, it was the rapid turnaround on standard and special tools that also impressed Tridan.
Peter Townsend recalls: “We manufacture families of aluminium frame racks for the aerospace industry in batches of 10-off every couple of weeks. With a significant amount of material removal, we applied the ITC 49G9 Series of ripper end mills with through coolant and a trochoidal strategy that was recommended by Gary. This immediately reduced the cycle time from 6 hours to less than 5. With these racks there are a number of thin walls that needed machining and the tools were pushing against the wall, generating different wall thicknesses and wavy surface finishes. ITC worked closely with us to change tool geometries, edge preparation and corner rads on a 10 mm diameter 3081 Series end mill that was
used for finishing the thin wall profiles.
This not only resolved our technical issue,
it demonstrated the expertise and the
level of support.”
With the arrival of the 6-station Palletech system, Tridan is achieving upwards of 140 hours of production every week on its latest Mazak machining centre. Manufacturing titanium alloy enclosures for the aerospace sector, the cell has been producing 50 parts per week with a cycle time close to 3 hours per part. The philosophy of this cell is to maximise machine utilisation and using ITC’s solid carbide VariMill end mill tools, Tridan was attaining four days of tool life from each end mill. To extend tool life further, ITC’s Gary Bambrick suggested a diamond-coated end mill; the result was extending tool life from four days to seven, a 40 per cent improvement.
Peter Townsend says: “ITC has proven that its solid carbide end mill and drilling lines can outperform everything we have trialled. We know that ITC also has an unfathomable range of indexable product lines available through Widia and Big Kaiser, so we will be investigating these options as we move forward for applications outside the remit of solid carbide tools.”

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