4 minute read • published in partnership with Mazak
Case Study: Aerospace manufacturer set to take-off to new heights following extensive investment
A Hampshire aerospace manufacturer is set to take-off to new heights in the global aerospace industry following an extensive investment in innovative full 5-axis cutting and automation technologies.
“My father founded the businesses in the aftermath of World War Two, after finding himself at a bit of a loose end,” begins Laurence Foulds, Managing Director at Middlesex Aerospace.
“He was an aircraft engineer who worked on jigs and fixtures used in the production of propeller systems for the likes of the de Haviland Mosquito. When the war finished, the need for RAF aircraft understandably dipped, so he founded a machine shop and took on board his previous colleagues that were also looking for work. After initially picking up work across a number of sectors, he reverted back to aerospace in the 1960s and we’ve been working pretty much exclusively in the sector ever since.”
Established in Middlesex in 1946, Middlesex Aerospace is now a leading tier-one supplier of critical components and assemblies to major aerospace OEMs all over the world. Employing over 150 people, including a burgeoning apprentice scheme that has trained in excess of a thousand engineers over the last 70 years, Middlesex Aerospace has firmly established itself as a major force in the production of Class 1 safety-critical parts and assemblies used in landing gear, actuation systems, and helicopter transmissions, amongst others.
Commitment to excellence
However, Middlesex Aerospace is much more than just a component supplier. Laurence continues: “Our vision is to deliver excellence and that extends throughout the aerospace supply chain with our ability to provide a strong supply chain management and component sourcing process. We’re equipped with stringent quality control processes and we’ve also developed an early warning system which ensures our highly trained engineers can deliver a competitive, viable and flexible supply chain management service.”
The company’s commitment to excellence manifests itself in its near-relentless adoption of new technologies. “We are very committed to innovation. We pride ourselves of being ahead of the curve, and we’re not afraid to invest in new technologies if they will make us better,” adds Laurence.
These are not empty words, and come in the aftermath in one of the company’s most significant machining investments in its 70-year history, having just signed-off on a seven-figure sum to purchase three brand new state-of-the-art machining centres from long-term machinery partner, Yamazaki Mazak.
Laurence continued: “We have worked with Mazak as our principal machinery partner for over 20 years. We initially started with some mill-turn lathes, but quickly progressed to the INTEGREX Multi-Tasking range. Given the application-critical nature of the parts we manufacture, we need absolute trust and confidence in our production equipment to work to the ultra-precise tolerances mandated by our customers. Having worked with Mazak for over two decades, and purchased over 16 models, our confidence in their machines in unwavering.”
The company’s most recent investment comprises of two new models from Mazak’s VARIAXIS i-series of simultaneous full 5-axis machining centres, including one with an expandable large capacity tool magazine which enables a flexible approach for high-mix, low-volume production; as well as a horizontal machining centre from Mazak’s HCN-4000 series, also complete with extended tool storage system.
The new Mazak machines will allow Middlesex Aerospace to improve its production capacity, particularly in the manufacture of smaller workpieces; and keep pace with demand from its customers around the globe. Furthermore, the new machines will help the company further improve component quality whilst also increasing its production volumes.
Laurence added: “One of our major focuses going forward is increasing our unmanned production capacity. We’ve worked very closely with Mazak with our most recent investments to achieve high-value-added machining on an unmanned basis, on very complicated parts. Historically, unmanned production has largely been about fairly simple components. Now we’re able to make some very, very sophisticated components from difficult-to-machine materials; not just from aluminium, but different steels, iron and other harder materials.
“Ultimately, we aspire to achieve a 90+% running uptime for lights-out unmanned manufacturing, 168 hours a week. That is our objective and we believe it is achievable.”
Yet, for Middlesex Aerospace, the benefits of this added automation go beyond meeting the extremely accurate and repeatable machining demanded by the aerospace sector. Data from Mazak’s new machining centres is being used to drive the course of the business, allowing Middlesex Aerospace to control its factory processes much more effectively.
The sky really is the limit
Another key driver behind the business’s projected growth is expanding its current offering to include new processes, components and the development of prototype solutions. With their powerful spindles, expanded tool storage and 5-axis capabilities, the new Mazak machines are crucial to these plans.
“We are very confident we will be able to double our current eight-figure turnover over the next 10 years. We will do that, not by producing twice as much as we do now, but by branching out into new products. As such, investing in two 5-axis Multi-Tasking machines and a customised horizontal machining centre was absolutely necessary,” concludes Laurence.
“Ultimately, it is a very exciting time for the business, and the aerospace sector as a whole – it’s a fast-moving world and there’s a lot of more business out there if you have the right technology. With Mazak as our partner the sky really is the limit.”