ASK THE EXPERT: Walter USA’s Ashton Cherry on the evolution of tools for aerospace manufacturing

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Tomorrow’s aircraft will be required to rise above the net zero emissions initiatives increasingly coming to the fore. Doing so will require changes in both component design and materials used. In Part I of our two-part interview with Ashton Cherry, industry driver – aerospace solution specialist with Walter USA, we dove into the design and makeup changes of aerospace parts. In Part II we delve into how tool designs are evolving to work on aerospace parts.

SHOP: Job shops serving the aerospace industry into the future will likely have to change their tooling and machining processes. From the Walter Tools perspective, what are you recommending and how are you supporting your customers making this transition?

CHERRY: As a general rule, we recommend getting away from general-purpose tooling. These are high production components, so they really need focused tooling, which means material-specific tools. We offer what we call Supreme, Advance and Perform tools. If you are working on a high production component, we would be looking at a Supreme line tool which is going to be a bit more expensive but the performance is going to be better and it’s going to be more reliable and have advanced geometries and coatings. As a result, the cost per edge is going to make for a cheaper option because we are talking about long-running jobs in high production. Each job is going to be unique so we like to look at every component individually. The process we like to implement starts with the customer contacting their field sales engineer, who will contact our engineering teamand provide a total package – we can look at the tools, the speeds and feeds, the processing, fixtures, we can even provide programming support. there is a whole host of solutions that we offer other than just the carbide that goes on the end. That’s the best way to optimize a process. When a customer calls and they just want a traditional solution for turning Inconel, there are 30-50+ tools we can give them so we really want to dial that down to what specifically they are doing: are they roughing, are they finishing, are they experiencing chip control, tool life, or surface finish issues? We want to be partners with our customers.

SHOP: It would seem the old approach of using one tool on different materials is not going to work any longer.

CHERRY: Correct, if you are going to rough or finish and it’s an Inconel 718, there will be specific tools for each application. The more production a shop runs, the more specialized we want the tools to be. For job shops that are not running high production, we can provide a tool capable of roughing and finishing, however it is not optimized. There is a wide array of tools that we have and ways we can support our customers, but for high production shops we really want to dig into the process and make sure we are providing the exact tool for the job.

SHOP: Looking specifically at blisks, which are made from HRSAs and are already seeing increased use in gas turbine engines to improve fuel efficiency, what specific machining challenges do they pose?

CHERRY: The blade geometry is going to be the determining factor in what we are going to propose. Blisks with long blades are certainly more difficult to work with. There are different machining strategies depending on the blade length and different tools we would recommend. For some of the shorter blades we have a solid standard offer but when we get into the longer blades we have to start looking at special solutions. There is a lot more curvature to the blades now, which means we really can’t attack every blade with a standard tool. There are requirements based on the cross section and blade length and how sharp that tool will need to be to avoid deflection. The amount of spacing between the blades is a big factor as far as how big we can make the tools because we need to pitch the machine head to access the blades and  If the blades are close together it doesn’t give us much Narrow blade spacing can reduce tool life and increase tool pressure as well as require us to use more slender tools .. Blisk blades also have  tight profiles, which means you need sharp cutting tools which will be consumed at a high rate.

SHOP: Any last advice on tooling practices for job shops serving the aerospace industry or those looking to do so?

CHERRY: If they are looking at getting into the industry or if they’re looking at bidding on new components, I would say give your tooling rep a call as soon as possible. Even if you are in the quoting phase, we can give you an idea of what we would recommend, what the run time would be, and if there are any features that would require special tools and inserts. This kind of information in advance has proved helpful  for our customers in the past,  no company wants to take on a job they might lose money on. Customers may change their pricing strategy to cover the difficult features of the job or choose another project. With  our help upfront, the customer will have a really good idea of what it would cost to manufacture the parts they are bidding on. It makes for a more intelligent bid. The earlier we can be involved, the more support we can provide.

Ashton Cherry is the industry driver – aerospace solution specialist with Walter USA

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