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Still a family owned business and with an annual turnover of around €1.5 billion, Fuchs Petrolub AG claims to be the world’s largest independent manufacturer of lubricants and cutting fluids employing over 3,500 people globally. In terms of its cutting fluid business, the company has made significant inroads into a number of industries but none more so than aerospace – particularly with its ECOCOOL S761B metalworking fluid. Dave Tudor reports.
Headquartered in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Fuchs Lubricants UK is the UK arm of the Fuchs business and is a fully fledged manufacturing operation in its own right. The site is home to around 170 employees providing sales, engineering, administration and applications support in addition to full production capabilities. In addition to this, a team of over 100 field-based engineers and sales staff provide localised support and service, and some are even permanently based at customer sites when the levels of support required warrant this arrangement.
Fuchs is a company that strives to continuously improve its products. Over 70% of formulations are less than five years old and Fuchs as a worldwide entity is committed to allocating a minimum of 2% of its annual sales revenues to R&D. It’s a similar story from an employee perspective too – around 300 members of staff are directly involved in R&D work.
Globally, the AS9100 approved company has seen a meteoric rise in aerospace business over the past few years and as a direct result has set-up a dedicated Global Aerospace Division to address the specific needs of this particularly demanding sector.
“The aerospace supply chain is truly global so it made sound business sense to pool resources,” explains Richard Rogers, Fuchs’ European sector coordinator for aerospace. “Practically all aerospace OEMs and Primes worldwide enforce stringent acceptance qualification criteria for use of coolants within their processes, so to avoid duplication of work, consolidation was definitely the right move.”
The Global Aerospace Division has a primary responsibility to develop and position Fuchs’ product portfolio in line with worldwide aerospace demands and current health and safety legislation. From a project management standpoint, this encompasses fluid approvals and cross-border commercial liaison with prime manufacturers.
“As manufacturing techniques advance and change, we have to keep abreast of developments,” Mr Rogers adds. “There’s an increasing demand for higher productivity and metal removal rates as well as high pressure machining operations with coolant pressures up to 300 bar. This creates specific demands on coolant technology in terms of emulsion stability and foaming – not to mention providing the required lubricity parameters to ensure that metalcutting performance is optimised.”
And the relentless quest for lighter and stronger materials for use in new aircraft build programmes also keeps companies like Fuchs busy. “In the past, aircraft such as the Airbus A320 and A330 series’ contained over 70% aluminium,” Mr Rogers observes, “but all that has changed in recent years with much more emphasis on titanium and composite materials on revolutionary aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A380 and 350 XWB.
“Ti5553 is used commonly in landing gear construction and Ti64 in fuselage manufacture but these are very hard materials and consequently more difficult to machine,” he continues. “We have to be up to speed in material technology as much as anything else and develop our products in accordance with new developments in this area. The Global Aerospace Division ensures that our efforts are focused and consolidated.”
The Division itself comprises teams headed up by three individuals reporting directly into the Fuchs Petrolub board of directors. Richard Rogers has responsibility for the UK and Europe; Jonathan Chow looks after the Americas including the USA, Canada, Brazil and Mexico; and Cono Balbo handles China, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia.
As already mentioned, to be effective, the division needs to keep up to speed with developments in the industry and in the UK, the aerospace division team is centred around Jill Cowell who is Fuchs’ UK aerospace industry specialist. Reporting directly to Mr Rogers, Ms Cowell maintains regular day to day contact with UK aerospace companies whilst supporting a team of field engineers and over 15 sales representatives. Consequently, she is in an ideal position to advise on new techniques and developments.
The price of approval
Getting the right approvals for acceptance into the aerospace supply chain can be a daunting task for any company but for a cutting fluid manufacturer it seems to be especially demanding and a phenomenally stringent process. “Rolls-Royce for example has its own internal Fluid Management Committee and whilst we’re given a broad outline of what will be expected from our products in terms of performance, the actual testing takes place in conjunction with Nottingham University against benchmark performance parameters that are unknown to us,” Mr Rogers divulges.
“It can be very expensive too,” he adds. “Testing a single fluid can cost in excess of £20,000 so it’s in our interest to make sure that the product we submit is as good as it can possibly be. This is where having someone like Jill Cowell on board is such a great asset as we can plan our products around future performance requirements.
“However, approval is a necessity,” Mr Rogers affirms. “Once a product is approved, such as the ECOCOOL S761 B it opens all kinds of doors for future business and proves that our products are suitable for use in the most demanding of conditions.”
From the ground up
Designed from the ground up for use in aerospace component machining and introduced by Fuchs around 18 months ago, ECOCOOL S 761 B is a high performance soluble oil coolant for use in both ferrous and non-ferrous metalworking applications. It is formulated to control foam in soft water, yet retain emulsion stability in very hard water (1,000ppm).
Its primary strength is in the effective machining of hard metals such as titanium. An effective lubricity package provides lubrication for cutting, drilling, tapping, broaching, milling, reaming, honing and sawing operations to give excellent surface finish and extended tool life. As a low foaming fluid, ECOCOOL S 761 B is ideal for high pressure (>1,000psi) fluid delivery applications.
Diluted with water for use at a concentration range from 5% to 10% the fluid affords rust protection for ferrous metals and staining control for non-ferrous metals. Importantly for Fuchs’ increasing involvement in aerospace applications, ECOCOOL S 761 B is approved for use by a number of major players including Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney.
Fuchs’ is a Tier 2 member company of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing and has a longstanding relationship with the University of Warwick for fluid development programmes. This relationship paid dividends in the development of ECOCOOL S 761 B through an independent study carried out by one of its PhD students to determine the effect of coolant concentration and water quality on tool wear and load in milling operations of titanium alloy. For the study, ECOCOOL S 761 B went head to head against competitor products to provide more meaningful and conclusive results.
“We were so confident in the performance of S 761 B that we decided to take things a stage further in the validation process,” Mr Rogers recalls. “We can test things to the nth degree within our own facility but this independent study really added gravitas to our claim that it’s the best product for machining titanium cost-effectively in the marketplace today. Through using ECOCOOL S 761 B at optimum levels of 8-10% concentration, there is now evidence that the product can bring about vast reductions in tool wear.”
The test involved machining trials carried out on a Deckel Maho DMU100 monoBLOCK 3-axis machining centre with Kistler 9257b load cell. The material was Ti6-AL 4-V titanium alloy with Sandvik GC 1620 solid carbide tooling with coating. Cutting parameters were:117m/minute surface speed; spindle speed – 2,337rpm with a feed rate of 972mm/minute. Depth of cut was set at 10mm with 1mm stock removal.
“The results were pretty conclusive,” Mr Rogers enthuses. “ECOCOOL S 761 B was recorded as the best performing product in terms of lowest tool wear with up to 50% less wear than our number one competitor product across all concentration levels. Not only that, but it showed 100% better performance than the competitor product at 8% concentration in demineralised water and the cutting forces required at a 10% concentration level were the lowest of all fluids tested.”
He continues: “The above is just a snapshot of the results obtained from the tests. The whole project took six months to complete and we have extensive supporting documentation and some 5,000 photographs to back up our claims.”
But the collaboration with Warwick University doesn’t end there. Currently Fuchs is involved in ongoing work and studies associated with the machining of composite materials. “We’ve carried out a vast amount of research into this area and with composite materials being used more and more in the construction of aircraft and this looking set to continue well into the future, we’re well placed to develop bespoke products that will meet industry needs,” Mr Rogers concludes.