Sutton Tools has never been hesitant about expansion of its global markets. The Melbourne-based company’s latest success in delivering significant productivity gains for a European aerospace customer is further hard evidence of the company’s commitment to continual investment in the latest, state-of-the-art manufacturing technology.

“Our business has been built on tackling the most challenging demands for tools, and the aerospace sector is a prime example of an industry that constantly demands sophisticated solutions,” says Jeff Boyd, Export Manager at Sutton. “However, it’s a tough market where there is a lot of competition and success is based on the ability to prove productivity gains.”

Several aerospace component producers in France had been buying a competitor’s brand, leading Sutton Tools’s European office to identify an opportunity to manufacture a superior performing solution, and in doing so, win some new business by delivering a productivity gain of 20% for the customer. The continual demand to reduce costs by increasing productivity is a key issue for the aviation and aerospace industries, with customers emphasising the need for reliance on tool stability so that they can confidently forecast their production schedules and reduce machine downtime.

“We recognised that development of specific aviation industry cutting tools is critical,” adds Boyd. “These tools need a longer life and faster cycle-times when working with high-strength materials such as titanium and inconel.

“The customer’s needs focused on solid carbide milling cutters between 12mm and 20mm that could deliver stable performance across a range of applications. We commenced the search for a solution, knowing the demands of the industry meant we had to really push the boundaries of our design and manufacturing technologies across our whole knowledgebase of microgeometry, materials, coatings and micro-finishing of surfaces.”

The engineering team at Sutton Tools focused on the need for a smoother, high-precision surface finish that would also strengthen the adhesion of the tool coating. To achieve the high finish that was needed, test results were compared from grinding tools using Sutton’s traditional ANCA ball-screw movement machines with those from an ANCA linear motion tool grinder. The team also experimented with different grinding wheel grades and grinding parameters in order to determine the best finish.

After studying surface roughness of the tools, it was discovered that the output from a linear motion grinder could achieve a higher accuracy of surface finish than the ball-screw machines. To validate the grinding methods, Sutton Tools used an optical 3D scanning technique to measure the surface area roughness at a magnification of 100 to one on the rake face and the cutting edge on the tools. This 3D scanning technique enabled the quality levels to be managed to an accuracy that is ranked as industry world-class.

“The intensive engineering approach by our team produced a successful outcome for the customer by improving their productivity,”says Boyd. “The process has also demonstrated we have the capability of being a first-class aerospace industry supplier.”

While Sutton operates advanced manufacturing facilities in the Netherlands and India, it was its Melbourne factory that carried out the whole evaluation process and produced the application-specific end mills for the French aerospace market.