Behind the mask

Behind the mask

Hadleigh Enterprises’ director, David Ogles explains the key role that masking tape products play in the industry and how as a fundamental process, it can offer key productivity gains.

Component manufacturers across the aerospace industry may operate in wholly separate and distinct areas of technology, but there are common aims and methods that all will recognise. Accuracy and consistency of production, in order to meet design and operational aims, which in many cases are also central to safety critical needs, are good examples of where every aspect of the manufacturing process must meet clearly defined objectives. Yet, according to one specialist supplier in the UK, the focus on product specification during production in one key area may not always receive the attention it deserves.

David Ogles is director of Hadleigh Enterprises, a supplier of an extensive range of masking tapes to manufacturers across the aerospace sector. He says that the idea that products in his field have no significant or differentiating performance characteristics is not only wrong, but can have significant consequences – from cost and efficiency to, ultimately, safety.

“I would like to think that the view that ‘tape is tape is tape’ is diminishing but, even if designers and buyers are becoming increasingly aware of the choice of masking products on the market, it is extremely important that the capability of different materials, and the problems their characteristics can overcome, are recognised,” he says. “Many in manufacturing – not just aerospace – will recognise, for example, the challenge of removing tape from the substrate after processing which depends mostly on the persistence of the operator and the sharpness of his blade. Product damage and throughput delays can result, yet by understanding the different types of masking materials and their performance capabilities, such issues and methods could and should be consigned to history.”

The tale of the tape

Ogles speaks with the benefit of Hadleigh Enterprises’ 45 years’ experience in the industry as a manufacturer, supplier and stockist of an extensive choice of masking products – all sourced from leading producers. Applications ranging from powder coating to corrosion protection – both during production and transportation – figure regularly amongst the company’s customers’ needs, with the aerospace sector a major beneficiary.

“So many individual masking tape applications are unique to specific processes, we have found it is vital to work as closely as possible with each customer to develop highly focused solutions,” he continues. “By being involved from the outset, and with ongoing production reviews, we can look not only to supply the most appropriate masking system, but can also ensure the customer benefits from continuous innovation – all as part of a structured application process.”

This last point, he believes, is often crucial. For example, the company’s willingness to develop prototype solutions that address key factors, such as masking accuracy and adhesion, is extremely important and can have a fundamental bearing on ongoing production operations.

Hadleigh Enterprises points out that this also helps to ensure that masking product innovation comes under the spotlight every time. Very high bond performance, the ability to fulfil metal-to-metal applications and high temperature capability of up to 380°C are all cited by the organisation as good examples.

To demonstrate the point, Ogles again uses the need to spend time – and in some cases, even create operator discomfort – in removing tape that has ‘cooked’ onto the substrate.

“By simply selecting a tape product that uses silicone rather than rubber adhesive, this problem can be readily overcome. Yet, because on a roll-by-roll basis this is seen as more expensive, it is all too easily dismissed,” he explains. “In turn, this effectively means that the potential cost of removal and, in some cases, re-working, re-painting and even consequent damage to a product’s integrity is ignored. Looked at in the overall context of a manufacturing process, that approach, in our opinion, seems to be based on the wrong motivation.”

Ogles says that the need to buy masking tape in unnecessary volume to keep costs down should be readily addressed by suppliers – they should be happy to deliver materials in smaller quantities, even a single roll if required.  This is of particular value where prototyping or product development is a specific focus.

Reel world applications

Matching material choice to application need, however, is only part of the issue.  Accuracy should also be at the heart of the specification process, with products slit and cut to match the shape and contour of the target area for masking as closely as possible.

“This is best achieved by a simple commitment to working closely with the customer, from initial briefing through to ongoing advice and support – in itself, this can become integral to optimising supply,” he adds. Where possible, Hadleigh Enterprises is happy to work from component drawings to ensure masking products – including slit rolls, die-cuts and discs – are tailor-made. Slitting tolerances of just ±0.2mm can be achieved.

With modern aircraft design not only becoming more and more complex, but also calling for materials that meet ever increasing levels of performance, it is quite clear that all aspects of manufacturing must not only be optimised but regularly reviewed. It is not only a competitive marketplace, but one where function and safety can often go hand-in-hand. Yet while the focus is – for understandable reasons – on the latest technological leap forward, there is an ongoing need to keep all aspects of production in clear view.

The fundamental role played by masking tape, in this context, may not steal the headlines, but it can have a direct bearing on products that do – and, David Ogles believes, it is therefore clearly deserving of close attention.


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