CAD/CAM Helps to Conquer Aerospace Tooling Complexity
Delcam’s CAD/CAM software has given aerospace subcontractor Lofting Services North West the tools needed to specialize in the machining of challenging materials and complex shapes and receive approvals from Rolls Royce, Airbus and BAE Systems, among others, for supply of tooling and components.
Delcam’s CAD/CAM software has given aerospace subcontractor LSNW Ltd (Lofting Services North West) the tools needed to specialize in the machining of challenging materials and complex shapes. Director Richard Fielding claimed that his company had “no interest” in simple high-volume jobs, preferring to take on more demanding work that other subcontractors would struggle to complete.
Lofting Services was founded in Manchester in 1996 by two brothers, Richard and David Fielding, in a 1,200 sq.ft. factory unit. It has grown so rapidly that the design office alone is now bigger than the original site. The company started out as a loft-drawing service, printing sections through designs onto aluminium sheets to act as templates for aerospace customers. While it is still doing some projects of this type for sheet metal parts and checking fixtures, these are now only undertaken as part of a complete service to its bigger customers. The main focus now is on larger aerospace projects, plus press tools, molds and inspection fixtures for the automotive industry.
Fielding bought the company’s first CNC machine to create 3-D models in 1997. This initial investment was so successful that a second machine was added a year later. At this stage all of the programming was completed externally by contractors, mainly using Delcam software. Following the purchase of more machines and an expansion into a second unit in 1999, Lofting Services decided to bring programming in-house, as more and more of its projects were CAD-based.
“Delcam was always the favorite when we started looking for our own software because we had never had any problems in machining programs supplied by Delcam users,” remembers Fielding. “We were also aware of a number of companies using Delcam products within our industry sector. The demonstration showed it to be the most cost-effective and powerful program of those that we reviewed, while it also appeared to be easy to use. The salesman was very knowledgeable.” Lofting Services invested in PowerSHAPE, PowerMILL and PowerINSPECT, plus Delcam Exchange to read in CATIA models.
The 10 years since the addition of the Delcam software have seen continued growth at Lofting Services. In 2004, the company purchased a 3-acre site and moved into new, purpose-built, high-security premises in 2006. Since the purchase of the first CNC equipment, eleven further CNC machines have been installed, double-column bridge-type machines, to ensure rigidity during the machining of tough and exotic materials. The range of equipment has also grown with the addition of seven-axis arms and laser-tracker inspection equipment from FARO using PowerINSPECT.
The latest and biggest machine tool purchase was a five-axis machine installed November 2009. The post-processers for this machine were written by Delcam engineers who liaised closely with the designers of the five-axis head from “ISA” based in Milan, Italy.
LSNW’s reputation has spread with the completion of a number of high-profile projects, including work on components for JSF and the Eurofighter. Approvals have been received from Rolls Royce, Airbus and BAE Systems, among others, for supply of tooling and components.
While geometry for many components is supplied to Lofting Services as CAD files, PowerSHAPE used extensively to prepare the models for machining. “PowerSHAPE is also very good for designing fixtures, both for machining and inspection,” adds Fielding. “PowerMILL is unbeatable for machining,” he continues. “I’ve seen lots of CAM demonstrations over the last 10 years, but I’ve never seen anything that would make me think about changing.”
“Fast turn-around has always been the key to our success and growth,” claims Fielding. “The Delcam systems make it quick to program one-off jobs; in fact, in a lot of cases, we can program quicker than we can machine. The results are extremely reliable. This is essential for us as we rely on ‘lights-out’, unmanned machining overnight and at weekends to meet the tight deadlines on many of our projects.”
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