Aerospace Precision Part manufacturer reduces operating costs

A global aeronautics contractor based in Southeast Asia was experiencing unreliability with some of its milling tools. Sutton Tool’s Specials Sales & Projects Manager Peter Sutherland describes how we overcame the issues by customising replacement tools and extend their life with ongoing servicing.

Our customer has ongoing business manufacturing hydraulic and pneumatic control components for Boeing and Airbus commercial aircraft. These components include super alloy materials such as titanium and duplex stainless steels.

The issues they faced were low and inconsistent tool life from their Japanese milling tools, even when new. They were also getting insufficient levels of technical support and service from their tool supplier.

They were also having these Japanese tools locally reground. But, with less than 50% new tool life and performance gained, it put the total cost per part way over their budgeted production costs. It was also causing problems with production outputs, through damage to their machine tools. And, the most important factor, scrapping of expensive superalloy parts!

Our local partner called us in, and we were invited to participate in production trials on two particular B787 Dreamliner parts: an actuator valve made from titanium and a duplex stainless tailstock, using conventional milling production strategies on a 32mm diameter RMR cutter.

First Fix the Tool!

Based on our previous experience in super alloy milling applications with global aerospace manufacturers, we were able to design an optimised 32mm tool designed to exceed the tool life of their long-term incumbent supplier. Importantly, it was tested and proven to deliver consistent performance for a given set of user parameters.

This new customised tool was created by using:

  • Superior Powdered Metallurgy (PM) material
  • Ground from solid cutting geometry using Sutton Rapid Metal Removal (RMR) profiles and processes
  • Specialised application heat treatment
  • Sutton micro finishing processes including pre-coat edge conditioning and post-coat polishing

All this was specifically designed to improve the tool life and consistency of the tools – to increase productivity through less scrap and reduced downtime.

The Process and Outcome

From design through manufacture to submission, the process took 12 months. During this time we underwent initial trials and subsequent stability proofing trials across two different departments and the two different OEM 787 aircraft parts in both titanium and duplex stainless machining.

Due to the requirements of the aerospace industry and its strict QA procedures, full documentation and approval protocols were carried out and maintained through the feedback process.

Initial results varied due to the different production requirements and department expectations, with an incredible 600% increase in tool life on one instance. However, that tool design was unsuitable for regrind and its production rates in commercial operation could not be sustained to the levels of consistency we were looking for.

The final outcome from the test period saw the resultant tool regularly achieving 48-50% increased tool life, benchmarked against the original tool used.

Now in production for three years, it has achieved very stable and consistent production rates. Tool life benchmarks have been set up to determine the tool’s ‘whole of life’ cost-per-part targets, which are being achieved in the commercial realities of day-to-day manufacturing. Each tool undergoes a new cycle and two regrind cycles before requiring both regrinding and recoating.

The complete re-service solution provided by Sutton Tools’ regrind and recoating facilities in Melbourne has seen tool life achievements of 85-90% of the expectation from a new part – in itself 50% higher than the re-servicing achieved on the previous tool!

Business Benefits

All up, the principle objective of extending tool life was achieved, with a combined 140-150% improvement in tool life, compared to the previous tool and local regrinding. The secondary focus on consistent life and performance was also achieved – allowing both production departments to meet their targets.

Cost overruns on tooling spend for one particular application have been reduced to almost negligible levels. Annual productivity has been boosted across the particular department in this component by an estimated 50%, given other factors also come into play.

An average Operational Rate for this large scale multinational operation involves running over 300 high precision CNC machines at around US$120/hr to operate, with 1,000-plus highly skilled workers across multiple production departments. So we can easily see that the savings made on just this one project – both in operational costs and output achieved – has generated much needed capacity to take on the ever-increasing volume of new work.

A Long-term Partnership

Since becoming one of their regular suppliers, we have built an excellent relationship with this large-scale aerospace components manufacturer, at both management and technical levels. It would be fair to say they are happy with the technical support and response times Sutton Tools provides in conjunction with our local agent, who looks after onsite inventory and manages continuous supply.

The company also appreciates direct access to ongoing technical support from our Australian head office. Although they could access regrinding and recoating services locally, they trust Sutton Tools to deliver the quality that continues to reduce their manufacturing costs.

Call us in to discuss how we could extend and prolong the life of your manufacturing tools. Give us a call on 1300 335 350 or email