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Work-holding solutions at Merc Aerospace

Aerospace sub-contractor says achieving high levels of productivity is down to ‘more than machine specification’

Posted on 30 Dec 2019 and read 1779 times
Work-holding solutions at Merc AerospaceBased at the heart of what has become known as ‘Lancashire’s Aerospace Valley’, Merc Aerospace specialises in machining small to medium volumes of tight-tolerance components to demanding deadlines.

The company has been serving the aerospace sector for more than 40 years, and aerospace-related contracts still account for the vast majority of its work.

That said, the skills that have been honed within this sector have allowed the business to diversify and attract customers from other equally demanding sectors — including defence, petrochemical and energy.

A policy of continuous investment means that AS9100-registered Merc has amassed an impressive plant list, including three-, four- and five-axis machining centres and twin-spindle mill-turn centres.

These high-specification machine tools allow the manufacture of a wide variety of complex components from difficult-to-machine aerospace and sub-sea materials — including nickel alloys, duplex and stainless steels, titanium and magnesium.

To meet growing demand, Merc recently installed another Matsuura MX-330 PC10 five-axis machining centre, bringing the number of these machines in a dedicated Matsuura cell to four.

As with its predecessors, the new Matsuura was equipped with Lang work-holding equipment from Aylesbury-based Thame Workholding (www.thameworkholding.com).

Before the installation of Merc’s first two Matsuura five-axis machining centres, to ensure that they could work to their maximum potential, thorough research was undertaken into the most suitable work-holding systems.

After considering the offerings from several leading companies, Merc decided that products from the Lang range — available from UK agent Thame Workholding — best suited its needs.

Commercial director Richard Meade said: “Although we purchased both of our original Matsuura MX-520 machining centres and our recently installed models to satisfy increasing demand, we knew that buying these high-yield five-axis machines was only half of the answer.

“To make certain that we delivered the required volumes, we needed to source work-holding equipment that would not only hold our workpieces securely but also minimise non-productive time spent on set-ups — and thereby maximise our available production time.

“After considering several alternatives, a demonstration made by Thame Workholding’s Tony Lewis convinced us that the Lang equipment ‘ticked all of our boxes’.

“Having now been using it for some time, we estimate that we have slashed the time previously spent on set-ups by as much as 75%.

“In addition, the Lang equipment provides exceptional levels of rigidity and repeatability of location — particularly when moving a Lang vice that is holding a part to a second machine tool for further operations.”

Precision and surface finish

Mr Meade went on to say that when undertaking tight-tolerance work, the design of the Lang system has helped Merc to achieve its required levels of precision and surface finish, thereby enabling the company to further reduce its already low scrap rate.

“It also helps that the compact nature of our Lang work-holding gives us excellent workpiece accessibility, thereby enabling us to adopt a one-hit machining approach — and achieve further time savings.

“Although they were selected on technical merit only, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Lang work-holding products cost less than some of the less-able brands that we considered; and because this equipment considerably increased our machining centres’ available productive time — and reduced our scrap levels — it has achieved a much quicker return on our investment than we had first calculated.”

Mr Lewis concluded: “As a work-holding solution provider, Thame Workholding can offer either standard products from stock or a bespoke design and manufacturing service to create the optimum solution to most work-holding needs.

“Having spent some time with Merc so that I could fully understand its particular requirements, I was certain that Lang work-holding products would suit the company’s needs.

“Now used ‘round the clock’, the Lang Makro-Grip five-axis system — for example — is undertaking Merc’s five-axis machining requirements.

“Clamping on only 3mm of material and featuring Lang’s ‘part stamping’ technology, it is supporting high-performance milling and offering optimal access for five-face machining.

“Also highlighted by Merc’s management is the Lang zero-point clamping system.

“Although this is just 27mm high, it provides precise and repeatable multi-functional mounting of different fixtures on machine tables, indexers, cubes, rotary tables and mill-turn machine tools.”