Competing with competence


Columbia Precision cashes in on Walter GB’s milling cutters and Engineering Kompetenz applications. Aerospace Manufacturing reports.

The combination of Walter GB’s tools and its Engineering Kompetenz applications engineering expertise, plus sophisticated 5-axis machine tools, is enabling Columbia Precision to not only meet its aerospace customers’ annual cost-down demands, but is also allowing the Birmingham-based company to compete with – and win – global business against competitors in lower wage economies. In one case, the use of Walter tooling is generating annual cost savings of an 70% compared to former methods.

Importantly, says Columbia’s operations director Ted Yarnall, the integrity and the expert application of the Walter tooling “is key to making annual savings on a host of complex aerospace workpieces, and over the past four years at least has seen us reduce piece part machining costs to meet our customers’ 3% year-on-year price reduction requirements”.

A wide range of milling tools supplied by tooling expert Walter is used by Columbia, to complement a host of top-of-the-range machines. Coupled with expert in-house manufacturing skills and 24/7 operation, the result is a formidable armoury of technology and skills that have kept the 54-employee precision machinist at the forefront of supply to companies in the aerospace sector.

Innovation combinations

Columbia relies on an impressive portfolio of modern machining centres and turning centres (predominantly Matsuura, Mazak and Hurco horizontal and vertical machining centres, and Mazak turning machines), plus milling tools from Walter.

These include the F4030 high-feed milling cutters with Screw-fit adaption, integral BT40 extensions and WSP45S inserts, which consistently generate “considerable cycle time and tool cost savings”.

Together, the combination of best-in-class machines and tooling consistently enables Columbia to meet the trio of supplier demands that are centred on supplying workpieces of the highest quality, at the ideal price and on time, in batches that vary from one-offs through to components required at the rate of 60/week on five-year contracts.

“Many companies throughout the world can buy and use similar machines and tools,” Yarnall continues. “But it’s the unique marriage of correctly applying these tools, which are of the utmost integrity, coupled with the highest levels of machine automation. For example, extensive pallet systems that includes a Matsuura MAM72-35V with 32 pallets enables us to out-compete others.

Columbia Precision competes with – and wins – global business against competitors in lower wage economies
Columbia Precision competes with – and wins – global business against competitors in lower wage economies

“We do this by steadfastly running the machines at night, unmanned. And to be able to do that safe in the knowledge that the finished components will meet all quality controls means we not only need suitable automated machines but, crucially, also tooling that is ultra-reliable. It’s no good loading up the machine for a nightshift if we can’t trust the tooling.”

Here, he says, the input of Walter GB’s technical sales engineer John Hejdner is invaluable. “John always takes time out to listen to our needs then, applying Walter’s Engineering Kompetenz applications expertise, advises our engineers on how best to apply specific tools to take time out of each job,” adds Yarnall.

“That doesn’t always mean that every batch of workpieces is machined at the highest feeds and speeds, and at the deepest depths of cut. We listen and take on board John’s advice and adopt machining criteria and strategies that not only reduce cycle times but also ‘preserves’ the machines’ spindle (for wear), for example.”

Right for flight

Among the array of solutions that Walter GB has applied is tooling for a stainless steel part for a Boeing 737. Machined from solid on a Mazatech FH-480 horizontal machining centre, the use of a Walter F4030 Indexable Hi Feed cutter for roughing on the majority of the component, followed in the more inaccessible sections by a 16mm diameter Walter H2EC ConeFit solid carbide milling cutter – Protomax Inox with Flash high-feed geometry and through-coolant - are generating annual overall cost savings of 70% compared to previous tooling from another supplier.

A Walter F4030 Indexable Hi Feed cutter is used for roughing the majority of a stainless steel part for a Boeing
A Walter F4030 Indexable Hi Feed cutter is used for roughing the majority of a stainless steel part for a Boeing

Running at a lower speed – 2,069rpm compared to 2,407rpm – but at higher feed and feed per tooth rates than the tool it succeeds: 2,069mm/min rather than 481mm/min and 0.250mm compared to 0.100mm; and with widths of cut and cut lengths per pass remaining the same, the Walter Protomax Inox tooling reduces tool presetting and tool change times; increases parts per insert edge – 37 compared to four; boosts tool life – machining 325m rather than 35m; achieves a much higher volume of metal removal – 16cm3/min compared to just 3cm3/min.

The use of the Walter tool, on this task alone, has effectively eliminated tool presetting costs, reduced ‘lost time’ in tool changes and slashed machining times (and costs) to enable hundreds of hours of capacity to be released.

Available in the diameter range 10 to 25mm, ConeFit is a modular solid carbide interchangeable head milling system that combines a solid carbide changeable milling head with a steel shank; solid carbide shanks and HSK63, SK40, Capto C5 and C6 monoblock adaptors are also available.

Tooling supply is a slick business at Columbia, with a Walter GB distributor Matrix Tooling Services, Nottingham, regularly topping up consignment stocks to a pair of vending machines. Matrix’s supply is supplemented by Walter GB’s technical input whenever the need arises.

Yarnall admits it is a never-ending quest “to continually improve every aspect of the business – which extends across two modern, neighbouring sites near the city centre - to ensure we maintain ‘ultimate precision’, which has been our mission statement for the past 35 years and underpins our accreditation to AS9100 Rev C, ISO9001, SC21 and Nadcap.”

He concludes: “Our continual investment in every aspect of top-of-the-range machining technologies, and working smarter with those investments by using world-class tooling, is how we stay one step ahead of global competitors, as visitors to our company can see for themselves.”

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