By Mary Scianna Photo by Ron Ng
Focus on low volume, high precision work for success
The Problem: Remaining competitive in a tough market
The Solution: Close to $2 million in machine tool investments
Aero-Safe Technologies’ competitive strategy is a simple but effective one: take the orders that few other shops want or are capable of handling.
“Business is looking great, especially because of our expertise in high precision, low volume machining. No one wants this work because it’s tight tolerance machining, which requires investment in high end machinery and quality equipment,” says Nick Rodway, general manager.
The Fort Erie, ON, business, formed in 1982 by Tony Rodway, began as a manufacturer of cargo parachute release mechanisms. It diversified into custom work, which eventually became the prevalent business.
Today, the 25,000 sq ft shop houses 32 CNC machines including milling (Matsuura and Brother), turning (Nakamura-Tome), five axis (Matsuura), multi-tasking (Nakamura-Tome) and EDM (GF AgieCharmilles) processes, and employs 45 people. Approximately 80 per cent of parts machined in the shop also undergo finishing processes–anodizing, chemical conversion, plating and passivation–at Aero-Safe Processing, a NADCAP and ISO 9001 approved facility. The shop houses a deburring operation equipped with the latest technology and run by skilled people. The quality department includes in-process and off-line CMMs (Mitutoyo and Zeiss), gauges and sensors for measuring various part characteristics.
The shop’s focus on tight tolerance (.0005 thousandth of an inch or less) precision machining requires ongoing investment in new machining technologies.
“If you don’t invest in technology, complacency follows,” says Rodway. “And if you don’t improve every one or two years, you will be left behind.”
That’s why Aero-Safe has purchased close to $2 million worth of machine tools in the past three years: two Matsuura MX-520 simultaneous five axis machining centres, two Brother TC-22B-O tapping centres and a Toyoda FV1680 large capacity VMC equipped with 1600 mm (63 in.) X axis travel. The investment included the purchase of a Matrix tool management system from Iscar, one of Aero-Safe’s cutting tool suppliers, which has helped to better manage cutting tools for machining processes.
Geoff Haynes, operations manager, oversaw the purchase and installation of the new machines. Haynes joined Aero-Safe in 1989, then left to pursue work in the automation and machine tool business, before returning to the company three years ago.
“I joined the engineering department and my role was to ensure we had the right tools and machines to improve our processes, and to carry on a Lean initiative that had been started before I came back to the company,” says Haynes.
The five new machines were purchased from machine tool distributor Elliott-Matsuura Canada Inc., Oakville, ON, a long-time supplier to Aero-Safe, and Haynes says the support the company provided helped Aero-Safe organize the machine shop and make room for the new machines.
“We had to make some changes to the shop floor because we had older machines and wanted to replace them with the new ones we had purchased. Elliott took back the old machines as trade-ins to make room for the new machines they helped to install.”
The new machine tools have helped Aero-Safe entrench itself in the satellite communications, aerospace and defence markets. Aero-Safe’s niche is high precision, small component manufacturing for the satellite communications market, which is about 35 to 40 per cent of Aero-Safe’s business. Approximately 80 per cent of the parts it machines are aluminum with the remaining 20 per cent being stainless steel, brass and other alloys.
“We manufacture components such as switches on satellites that control radio frequencies. Some of these satellites might be in space for years before they’re activated to work and the quality control on these components is incredible. We have built up the experience to machine these parts, which is quite complex. We were doing a lot of the components using multiple operations but we’re now doing most of the work in one set up on the new five axis machines, which really helps in achieving the machining accuracies we need for these parts,” says Haynes. SMT