A family-run engineering business, Pennine Tools Aerospace Ltd. was established in Earby, Lancashire in 1974. Originally called Pennine Tools Ltd. (‘Aerospace’ was added in 2003), the company provided both precision and general engineering services to a broad range of sectors. These included medical devices, furniture manufacturing, commercial products, and military aerospace.
By the mid 1980s, Pennine's reputation for uncompromising levels of precision and expertise was attracting significant interest across the aerospace industry - so much so, that an additional manufacturing facility was opened in nearby Barnoldswick. Then, in 1989, the Directors decided to focus exclusively on commercial and military aerospace engineering and manufacturing. A wide customer base was developed over the following years, one that today includes BAE Systems, Airbus and GE Aviation. To meet the increasing demand for its services, in 1999 Pennine transferred all its activities to Barnoldswick, later moving to a purpose-built facility in the town.
In those early days, Pennine manufactured components for aircraft such as the Vickers VC10 and the Nimrod maritime patrol aeroplane. Today, Pennine works on contracts involving the F-35 Lightning, the BA Jetstream, the BAE Systems Hawk, the BAE 146RJ short-haul airliner, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and Airbus's A380, A350 and A400M.
As a business that regularly invests in new manufacturing technologies, Pennine currently operates a suite of more than 30 machining centres. These include 3- and 5-axis milling machines, turning machines, grinding machines and coordinate measuring machines. Perhaps the only capability not available on-site by the beginning of 2019 was component marking, with Pennine relying on the services of external specialists to laser traceability data onto bolt heads of various sizes.
“As you can imagine, the very nature of our business means we work to incredibly tight deadlines,” comments Quality Manager, Robin Chapman. “As such, outsourcing our laser marking requirements could occasionally prove challenging, with orders sometimes taking up to two weeks to fulfil. That timescale simply wasn't acceptable to our production schedules. Outsourcing component marking was also expensive and, in my view, the cost was disproportionate to the level of work involved.”
In spring 2019, the decision was therefore made to invest in an in-house laser marking solution. After completing a web search of technology providers, Robin Chapman invited three organisations, one of which was Technifor, to demonstrate their laser marking machines.
“One machine was far too complex and expensive for our relatively straightforward needs,” adds Robin Chapman. “Another, while first appearing to represent good value wasn't really up to the task in hand. By contrast, Technifor offered precisely what we were looking for. Technifor's technical sales engineer, Simon Tims, took the time and trouble to find out exactly what we wanted to achieve and gave a thorough product demonstration. The Technifor solution - their LW2 stand-alone Laser Station equipped with their F20 (20 watt) Fibre Laser marking machine - was simple to programme, quick and easy to use, sensibly priced and delivered first-class results.”
The Technifor LW2/F20 combination was chosen by Pennine for its ability to precision-mark an extensive range of metals and ABS plastics, while a laser marking area of 110 mm2 provided the flexibility to mark components of various sizes. The order was placed in May 2019 and Pennine's new Technifor LW2 Laser Station was installed just a few weeks later.
“It was all done in a day,” says Robin Chapman. “Simon Tims installed and commissioned our laser station and provided full user training. He also arranged a follow-up visit just to check we were happy with everything and were using the station to our full advantage. We've now been running the Technifor system for around five months. The machine is quick and simple to operate and the lasering - typically adding up to three lines of traceability data to bolt heads - is always of the highest standard. As a measure of the quality of our laser marking process, it has been signed off by Airbus.
All in all, we're delighted with our Technifor Laser Station and the convenience, quality and savings it is providing us with. Technifor as a company is very easy to deal with. They took the time to fully understand our needs. We received clear, straightforward advice – and the training was perfect. From start to finish, the whole process has been hassle-free.
The Technifor UK team thanks Pennine Tools Aerospace for their time and testimony.