In discussion with Mark Radcliffe, Business Development Manager (Aerospace) at MAPAL, Contributing Editor Steed Webzell learns there is far more to this innovative tooling company than many are aware
Although historically a renowned market leader in the automotive sector, tooling expert MAPAL is also a significant player in the aerospace industry following a concerted effort to infiltrate this segment over the past 15-20 years. Today, the company’s tooling is in use at most major aerospace OEMs and MAPAL is now targeting greater penetration at tier one and tier two supply chain manufacturers.
Tooling solutions from MAPAL are available for aerospace structural and engine materials that include aluminium, CFRP (carbon fibre reinforced plastic), titanium, stainless steels, superalloys and more. Many structural parts are single materials, but some assemblies feature multi-stack materials involving aluminium-CFRP-titanium or CFPR-stainless steel, for example. Tool geometries and coatings therefore demand high levels of design innovation.
“Diamond-coated tools work well on abrasive CFRP, but are not ideal for titanium,” explains Mark Radcliffe, Business Development Manager (Aerospace) at MAPAL. “We use advanced geometries and coatings to overcome the challenge of simultaneously machining materials with very different properties, while still delivering impressive tool life.”
Accuracy is another important factor. Here, MAPAL tools can perform the one-shot drilling of multi-stack materials within tolerances of 50-60µm.
“The point geometries and how we use the margins ensures successful drilling to tight tolerances without delamination” he adds. “We’re currently involved in a project that requires reducing the burrs on aluminium exit to less than 100µm.”
Today, MAPAL has a standard tool catalogue for its aerospace customers dedicated to titanium and superalloy workpieces. Its pages include information on the latest high-feed milling cutters, indexable inserts and high-speed drills, for instance. A similar catalogue is available for aluminium parts, covering different types of carbide and PCD tooling.
R&D is ongoing. A case in point is MAPAL’s new (released at EMO 2023) OptiMill-Alu-Wave solid-carbide roughing cutter for aluminium workpieces. This exciting new cutter can achieve staggering metal removal rates of up to 21 litres per minute on structural parts such as wing ribs and wing skins, which will prove highly appealing to tier-one and tier-two manufacturers.
“Due to tight profit margins, we find supply chain manufacturers very receptive to any new tooling innovations that can deliver genuine competitive gains,” explains Mark Radcliffe. “They seek out cost-effective tools able to reduce cycle times and cut costs, without any compromise in tool life or quality. Our new OptiMill-Alu-Wave scores on all fronts.”
Drilling, reaming, milling and trimming are MAPAL’s core aerospace competencies, typically involving solid-carbide and indexable-insert cutters, as well as holders. Regarding the latter, a recent innovation is the company’s Mill Chuck for hard metal machining applications, which avoids the issue of shrink-fit holders that gradually loosen their grip on the cutter as heat increases. Mill Chuck provides physical contact with the tool, delivering 900 Nm of clamping force regardless of temperature. The result is no more pull-out or push-in during hard metal machining, resulting in a far more rigid process.
As a matter of course, MAPAL benchmarks all new products against comparable offers from competitors, refusing to release any new innovations that are not among the top three performers. The company has many aerospace case studies that highlight the gains available from such rigorously assessed tools.
“We had a project involving titanium where we reduced cost per part by 200%,” states Mark Radcliffe. “Another example saw us reduce the cycle time of a process involving an indexable-insert cutter from 6.5 to 3.5 hours per part. Delivering an annual cost saving in excess of £250k. In all cases we scrutinise the whole process up front to identify the optimal way of generating savings for customers.”
Many aerospace tools are of course specials, particularly those for OEMs. In these instances, MAPAL conducts a comprehensive review of the application and project objectives before delivering a proposal (with input from the company’s Competence Centres in Germany, if required).
“The design and manufacture of specials takes place in the UK,” says Mark Radcliffe. “Once complete, customer trials take place as part of an iterative testing process that will continue until we meet the project’s objectives.”
Tooling solutions for aerospace customers today represent 30-40% of MAPAL’s UK revenue. With even more growth anticipated moving forward, this is clearly a business in full flight.