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M.A. Ford Aerospace tooling at the cutting edge
M.A. Ford Aerospace tooling at the cutting edge

M.A. Ford Aerospace tooling at the cutting edge

Added to MTDCNC by MA Ford on 12 June 2015
It's probably unsurprising that advances in aerospace manufacturing technology and materials are paralleled by the evolution and development of high performance cutting tools to match changing industry demands and the constant drive for improvement.
This inter-relationship and in some cases even an interdependency, is probably no more visible than with tooling company M.A. Ford Europe. Part of US based global tooling specialist M.A. Ford Manufacturing Co. Inc, the company’s European arm operates in much the same way as its North American parent in that it has a close involvement within the aerospace and defence sectors both from a civil as well as a military standpoint. The company’s latest generation of products including DiACON PCD tooling for CFRP materials and the innovative CERAedge ceramic coating, designed for high performance machining of stacked composites, are already being used widely within the aerospace industry in aircraft manufacturers’ own plants as well as those of its supply chain.
However, with a history spanning almost 100 years, the development of aerospace specific tooling began many decades ago and has gradually seen the business and the tooling range expand and evolve to match technological, production and precision requirements within the industry. M.A. Ford’s Managing Director, David Ward, explained: "The significant pace and scope of advances within the aerospace sector presents considerable challenges and demands for tooling companies. It also demands that we’re constantly looking ahead to the next generation of tooling and manufacturing solutions rather than taking time to recognise the string of past innovations we have introduced, many of which still play key roles in most aerospace production environments."
M.A. Ford initially became recognised for its high performance ALtima coated TuffCut XR and XT ranges, which were designed for use with traditionally difficult to machine materials, such as titanium, Inconel, stainless steels and related 'super alloys'. However, rather than just provide standard tooling geometries, the company created the first ‘off-the-shelf’ range dedicated to aerospace applications that included industry standard fillet radius forms within the range. This principle was further extended within the XT range, which also incorporated neck relief as a standard feature to provide greater flexibility and precision with aerospace manufacturing. M.A. Ford also introduced the first seven fluted tool available from stock, which allowed unprecedented machining speeds and metal removal rates.  
When designing tooling that can deliver rapid removal rates, extended tool life and the required level of precision, particularly when machining heavy metals and alloys, M.A. Ford’s use of high performance coatings such as ALtima and ALtima Blaze is only part of the solution and a deeper understanding of the machining process is required to obtain the best results. Among the various factors that have an influence on tool design, which include surface speed, feed rate, depth of cut, metal removal rate and the properties of the material itself, harmonic vibration has become a critical component.  
Although vibration can be due to a range of contributory factors, such as the rigidity of the machining platform and age of the machine tool, it's often a combination of these along with exceptionally high speeds and feeds of up to 21 m/min using constant radial engagement machining techniques that can be the cause. At these elevated operating levels, high frequency vibration can have a detrimental impact not only on the tool life, but also the precision and finish of any cutting operation.
While machining vibration is not a new phenomenon and can often be resolved by modifying the machining speed, feed rate or cutting depth, in applications demanding absolute performance, this approach will be a compromise. While there is always an optimum operating range for a specific tool in a given application, M A Ford set about reducing the potential for vibration to be generated within the tool design, which would allow the optimal performance range to be maintained at higher levels. 
As a result, M A Ford’s four and five fluted tools incorporate a compound helix design within the tool that provides a differential spacing between each flute that interrupts the onset of harmonic vibration and allows the effective operating window to be increased. The use of ‘spindle tap testing’ and vibration analysis techniques, such as those provided by industry specialists BlueSwarf, are used by M A Ford when advising on machine set up, tooling selection and performance machining, to ensure the optimal solution is achieved.
Advanced cutting geometries also form an integral part of the TuffCut X-AL range, which was initially introduced to the US aircraft manufacturing industries more than 10 years ago as a direct response to the need for a high performance tool delivering rapid material removal in aerospace grade aluminium alloys. As a result, a 12mm diameter X-AL end mill cutting a 12mm deep slot can achieve an extreme feed rate of 1mm per tooth per revolution. Alongside the dedicated aerospace end mill ranges, sit the company’s extensive solid carbide drills and reamers, which also use high performance coatings to exact the best performance, precision and finish.  
Due to their solid carbide design, the tools can be re-conditioned and re-coated once they have worn beyond their operating life, which is carried out in the UK by the M.A. Ford Custom Tools Division in Leeds. As the name suggests, this facility is also focused on manufacturing special purpose tooling to individual customer designs and application requirements, while also providing a dedicated R&D, customer seminar and training resource for M.A. Ford Europe. The machining of CFRP and non-metallic composites is covered by the company’s DiACON PCD (poly-crystalline diamond) tooling, which achieve high precision and accuracy and incorporate drills, countersinks, step drills and step reamers, as well as multi flute and profile formed end mills. 'We adopt the same innovative processes in our PCD tooling that are used in the rest of our tooling range to provide high performance and precision while maintaining excellent tool life and repeatability," continued David Ward. 
"However, while CFRP machining has its own specific challenges, the evolution and use of stacked composites in aircraft design was another demand that required us to create a completely new solution with our CERAedge coating technology." CERAedge is a patented ceramic coating technology marketed jointly by M.A. Ford and a US materials research laboratory, which allows high speed precision machining of stacked composites and titanium clad composites. The coating’s ceramic structure makes it the third hardest material when compared to industrial diamond, which allows it to resist high temperatures as well as being non-reactive to titanium. "CERAedge addresses a range of inherent issues when machining stacked composites that can’t be effectively resolved using existing tooling or coating technology," added David Ward. "This is yet another example where aerospace development is driving innovation in the tooling sector. Our own advanced materials research and application facilities allow us to generate new technologies, but the best results come from meeting specific industry needs and working collaboratively, which is essentially what we’ve been doing for decades within the aerospace sector."
Current developments from M A Ford Europe that are about to be introduced include a new high accuracy modular tooling solution incorporating interchangeable heads with a maximum run out accuracy of 10 microns and the new CXD Cyclone drill with an advanced point geometry that forms controlled chips in titanium allowing for better evacuation and higher penetration rates. A new aluminium drill is also under development.
Further information on M.A. Ford Europe and its manufacturing solutions is available from www.mafordeurope.com or by calling +44 (0) 1332 267960.
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