Arrowsmith Takes-Off With MSC

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As a prominent Tier 1 subcontract supplier to the world’s leading aerospace OEMs, Coventry based Arrowsmith Engineering has a reputation for being a high-quality fast response business that covers everything from Research & Development, machining and Non-Destructive Testing to pressure testing services and more.

Recently winning the Queen’s Award for International Trade that adds to a ream of awards, accolades and certifications, Arrowsmith has like most companies witnessed challenges throughout the pandemic. As an SC21 Silver accredited company with customer approvals from the likes of Rolls-Royce, GKN, ITP, Bombardier, Eaton and Meggitt, the pedigree of Arrowsmith is beyond reproach – as is its involvement in the aerospace industry. For the West Midlands company, the pandemic induced challenges facing the aero sector have been overcome by diversifying and adapting to market forces and relying upon the expertise of its supply chain, and in particular MSC Industrial Supply Co.

Arrowsmith, like the entire aerospace industry, has witnessed the perfect storm of reduced orders and output, Covid compliant distancing and temporarily forced staff reduction levels via the furlough scheme – all created by worldwide flight restrictions. However, Arrowsmith has seen it overcome numerous industry downturns’ in its five decades of business, and this experience has seen the company once again seamlessly adapt to market conditions. With MSC supporting Arrowsmith over the last five years to deliver cost-reductions and productivity savings of more than £500,000, Arrowsmith has again called upon its supply partner.

The Challenge

With a temporary dip in aerospace work, Arrowsmith was intent upon winning new business during the pandemic; a significant challenge when faced with Covid compliant remote working and social distancing. The AS:9100 and ISO:14001 certified manufacturer were in the tender process with an aero-engine OEM to undertake the machining of more than 50 aluminium engine components. Arrowsmith turned to MSC to support the project. Arrowsmith wanted to know if MSC could firstly support them to undertake the project with product and application support; secondly, could MSC meet the tight dimensional and surface finish criteria specified within the project and finally, could MSC engineers reduce the number of processes and projected production times? The answer to all three questions was a resounding yes!

MSC Application Engineer Matthew Garbett reviewed Arrowsmith’s proposed machining strategy for the parts and set about improving the process. In normal circumstances, this is part of the daily job for any of MSC’s applications and engineering team – but with Covid restrictions in place, Matthew had to undertake the challenge remotely. Working as an extension of the Arrowsmith engineering team, the MSC engineer reviewed the proposed strategy for 5-set-ups on two 3-axis machining centres and subsequently adapted the process to two set-ups on a single 5-axis machine.

The solution

The MSC engineer was given the work envelope and axis movement dimensions of the Leadwell V40i 5-axis VMC and intuitively configured a solution with Lang Technik, the existing workholding provider at Arrowsmith. The solution included the adaptation of the existing zero-point clamping system to add a secondary clamping plate and two Lang vices for clamping the extra-long parts.  Lang Technik assisted MSC to offer Arrowsmith a viable solution; the MSC engineer had managed to theoretically reduce set-ups and subsequently eliminate the opportunity for dimensional error that can occur from multiple set-ups.

With the machine, work envelope, and workholding configuration defined, MSC’s Matthew Garbett was supplied the CAD drawing and model of the component by Arrowsmith. Unlike alternate suppliers, MSC takes service to another level. In this instance, the MSC engineer programmed the dimensions of the machine with Autodesk’s Fusion 360 package and then exported the data to Autodesk PowerMill to programme the toolpaths and machining strategy.  Commenting upon this, MSC’s Matthew Garbett says: “On the shop floor, Arrowsmith utilise ALPHACAM as their preferred CAM system. Our current library of post-processors was relevant to their Leadwell 5-Axis machine which meant we could provide a stable, secure machining process in PowerMill, that would be free from potential collisions whilst ensuring machining strategies were optimised.”

The Right Tools for the Job 

As well as remote programming and defining a machining strategy, it was important to select the right cutting tools to yield optimum results. The diverse portfolio of brands and a seemingly endless range of cutting tools available from MSC provided the optimal solution. “Matthew Garbett continued “Based upon the experience of MSC’s engineers, we know that machining aluminium aerospace components of this type would be best suited to the solid carbide milling range offered by SGS Carbide. Sharing the details of the project with Steve Neale, a senior application engineer at SGS, we remotely created and optimised a selection of cutting tools that would enhance machining performance and tool life whilst consolidating the number of tools required.

The MSC strategy was to face machine the top of the part and add the location features for the zero-point clamping system. The second set-up was to undertake the complete machining of the remaining faces, edges, pockets, chamfers, holes and threads. The tools selected for the process were a Kennametal face mill with three indexable inserts that cost-effectively replaced a previous 6-insert face mill, as well as a solid carbide Accupro Drill and a DC Swiss threading tool. Following the heavy material removal operation, MSC collaborated with SGS and used a series of 2, 3 and 4-flute solid carbide end mills, ranging from 2 to 16mm in diameter. Both square end and ball nose designations were utilised for machining all features, including edge radii, pockets and slots. 

Putting Theory into Practice

Once lockdown restrictions were relaxed, and site visits were allowed, an appointment was planned. With the CAM programme and post-processor in place, MSC’s Matthew Garbett and Steve Neale from SGS worked in collaboration with Arrowsmith engineers to set-up the machine, running preliminary parts and optimising the cutting speeds and feeds in accordance with the parameters of the machine. Whilst the machining strategy was in place, the cutting speeds and feeds had to be tweaked on the machine, as the workholding set-up and machining strategy had the potential for part deflection. 

The Results

By undertaking the project remotely, MSC has seamlessly integrated this complex machining process into the shop floor at Arrowsmith. By adapting the machining strategy to just two set-ups, MSC has guaranteed process stability for critical aerospace components with tolerances across the part tied to less than 50 microns. As well as ensuring process stability, MSC has instigated a machining strategy that is yielding a cycle time of just 2 hours 20 minutes for the extremely complex parts whilst demonstrating exceptional surface finishes. Furthermore, by utilising specific cutting tools from SGS Carbide, Accupro and Kennametal, MSC reduced tooling costs and consumption via improved tool life and greater flexibility and autonomy for all aluminium machining tasks.

One of the key benefits for Arrowsmith is the professional, reliable technical support from MSC. By turning to MSC during a period where Arrowsmith is operating with less staff to adhere to Covid safe work practices, the integration of the MSC engineer has enabled Arrowsmith engineers to quote and plan for new work. MSC has freed engineering capacity at Arrowsmith, and their engineers have subsequently been able to focus on and win new projects of significant value.

Commenting upon this, Martin Porter, the General Manager at Arrowsmith says: “MSC has collaborated with us on several complex projects over the last four years. On this occasion, their Application Engineer, Matthew Garbett, worked alongside and remotely with our Engineering Team. His level of expertise and commitment was instrumental in helping us to secure future projects. MSC shares our ambition to be the best we can be, so like us; they see the importance of creating efficient and cost-effective processes at every stage of production.”

In conclusion, MSC’s National Account Manager Oliver Latchford says, “Conducting remote working to such an extent has been a true testament to the expertise MSC engineers have, and also our relationships and understanding of our customers and their needs. In this instance, Arrowsmith approached MSC with set criteria, and we have successfully fulfilled and exceeded the requirements. More manufacturers are bringing MSC engineers into the manufacturing process at a much earlier stage than ever before. Customers are calling upon MSC to support them right at the ‘new product introduction’ phase. By utilising our expertise and solutions at such an early stage, we can yield huge benefits for the end-users, and this is why MSC is the partner of choice.”