Core competences: machining of aeronautic parts in aluminum, titanium, stainless steel or Inconel
The company Le Piston Français (LPF Group) was founded in 1947 as a supplier to the French automobile industry. Today the group is a leading player in the aeronautics industry. Its head office is in Toulouse, and it has six subsidiaries in France (including the historic LPF Sommières site in the south), Poland and Morocco.
Specialized in the machining of aeronautic parts in aluminum, titanium, stainless steel or Inconel, varying in size from 10 mm to 2.5 meters, LPF generates a turnover of 32 million euros from its business with the major players in the sector (SAFRAN, AIRBUS subsidiaries). LPF Sommières employs a workforce of 150. “We have real knowhow in the complex products that are vital to the operation of a helicopter. For example, we are the biggest supplier of mechanical parts for the H160, the latest model in the AIRBUS Helicopters range”, explains Vincent Fontaine, Site Manager. “Our flexibility, our adaptability and high-quality research work are key aspects of our philosophy, and are all enabled by our ‘operational excellence’”.
The company in fact focuses constantly on five areas: optimize performance, anticipate manufacturing, manage production flows, solve problems and improve chip-to-chip times. To meet these imperatives the company relies on the leading- edge technology deployed in its 3-, 4- or 5-axis NC machines (Mori Seiki, Huron and Doosan) and solutions for the digital process, including NCSIMUL Machine, NCSIMUL 4CAM and NCSIMUL TOOL, three NCSIMUL SOLUTIONS modules developed by SPRING Technologies.
“By deploying the same techniques across all the group’s subsidiaries, we have the agility to switch from one site to another, factoring in production imperatives and NC machine availability”, explains Franck Lisle, Manufacturing Engineering Manager, LPF Group. This is one of our strengths as we make customer satisfaction a core goal of our research and innovation. In fact we have received a number of awards, notably the ‘Customer Satisfaction Trophy” from Usine Nouvelle magazine in 2016.
CHALLENGES & GOALS
We wanted to implement a complete digital process, from viewing the 3D models, to production, via CAD software (TOPSOLID at LPF Sommières and CATIA in the group’s other subsidiaries) and SPRING’s solutions for generating validated, optimized NC programs (NCSIMUL Machine), automatic one-click reprogramming (NCSIMUL 4CAM) and cutting tool management (NCSIMUL TOOL).
“We are across-the-board sub-contractors for the aeronautics industry and address a wide range of very different needs, from flight controls to aluminum fuel tanks, via basic parts in titanium and Inconel...etc. This is our DNA! Our industrial strategy and technologies must be there to serve all the companies in the group, our organization, flexibility and quality, all of this to help us remain competitive”, concludes Franck Lisle. “The ability to share our production tools is a corner stone, an important and decisive argument in delivering customer satisfaction.”
BEFORE AND AFTER NCSIMUL
The first module was delivered to LPF Sommières and the rest of the Group in 2013. Today, NCSIMUL Machine is used to simulate and secure some fifteen NC machines in the group and can sometimes divide lead times fourfold. “This is a vital part of our production system that enables us to slash setup times and the risk of error by around 65 to 75% and, consequently, produce parts that are right first time. Yet our ambition is to take our development still further towards the factory of the future”, adds Vincent Fontaine. This is something that we have been able to do since we deployed NCSIMUL 4CAM on our sites at LPF Sommières and LPF Auterive in 2016.
The ability to choose a 3-, 4- or 5-axis machining center, or even the site, according to our imperatives, as well as availability, workflow, and production load, is an advantage for LPF Group. The goal is to produce better and faster, to ensure the cost-effectiveness of the machine installation and consequently improve customer productivity and satisfaction. This is what all manufactures are looking for. With NCSIMUL 4CAM we now have it up and running at LPF Sommières.
“It’s almost magic!”, jokes Franck Lisle. “With SPRING’s latest solution, we have cut lead times for reprogramming an NC machine from one week to a few hours, even when different kinematics are used. We know how to generate a program in practically one click, whether the initially planned NC is the one that will actually be used.”
There is in fact no point in redeploying the complete manufacturing process: CAM, post-processor generation, program control… A single automated step for reprogramming with NCSIMUL 4CAM does it all. What we have at last is a two-way digital process based on the information from the Workshop, a reliable, flexible, secure and automatic decision-making tool.
The last word goes to Franck Lisle: “We have implemented CAM on our sites at LPF Sommières and LPF Auterive. We have just bought a new NCSIMUL 4CAM license for our Moroccan plant in Casablanca, where we will be using it with the integration of three 5-axis machining centers. This gives us great flexibility to be able to systematically choose the right means of production at the right time.”