Going from strength to strength


Prima Tooling specialises in the design and production of tooling. Offering an efficient tool re-sharpening, repair and re-manufacture service to its customers, Composites in Manufacturing hears how it continues to go from strength to strength.

Prima Tooling was formed in 1979 by three partners, each with extensive experience in the design and manufacture of high quality tungsten carbide and high-speed steel (HSS) tools. The early success of Prima Tooling meant that by 1987 the company had outgrown its original Romford, Essex-based factory. To help satisfy the rising demand for the company’s highly-efficient products, Prima Tooling relocated to a new, larger facility in nearby Brentwood.

In 2013, two former employee's, Mark Cattle and Paul Wiggins purchased the company from the previous partners and formed ‘Prima Tooling Limited’, which has continued to grow and the Brentwood facility has more than doubled in size in order to accommodate the company’s increasing range of advanced machine tools.

Prima Tooling’s current, comprehensive tool range includes products such as polycrystalline diamond (PCD) end mills, countersinks, counterbores, profile cutters, profile spindle tooling, router cutters and saws. As well as providing a wide range of standard tungsten carbide, HSS and PCD tools, Prima Tooling works closely with its customers to design and manufacture one-off, cost-effective specialised tooling. To enable rising demands for Prima Tooling’s products to be satisfied and to ensure that the company’s high-quality standards are upheld, further major investments have recently been made to increase its capacity of advanced machine tools, such as Vollmer QXD and QWD spark erosion machines with high capacity automatic loading, an ANCA MX7 tool and cutter grinder equipped with robot loading to enable unmanned, lights-out production and a Walter CNC measuring machine.

Right tool, right job

Given the need to ensure its manufactured tools precision, surface finish and other important quality parameters, Prima administer a policy of using the best available manufacturing consumables products, such as premium quality coolant, grinding wheels, EDM electrodes and wire across its production plant.

“Our impressive success in the manufacture and sales of tooling has been brought about by ensuring that each of our products is designed to deliver maximum efficiency and long-life usage to our customers,” explains Prima Tooling’s director, Paul Wiggins. “We don't just manufacture and sell tools; we offer expert advice on what is the right tool for a particular application. Also, if potential customers have a problem, we'll help them to solve it. We have found that the composite and other industries demand for PCD tooling has increased dramatically due to the wear resistance of PCD on modern abrasive composite materials. In turn, this reduces the customers down-time in tool changes and sharpening costs.

“When a tool is manufactured by us, careful consideration is taken on what geometry the tool should have i.e. shear, rake and relief angles, also the cutting feed and speeds of the machine. Raw materials are carefully selected dependent on the workpiece material density and make up. This is all taken into account to give the best cut possible for the challenges of composite materials.”

Prima Tooling success is built on investing and keeping up with latest technology, also keeping a close relationship with its suppliers on the raw materials for the latest developments, to allow us to produce more complex tools and keep up with the ever-changing material composition that need to be cut and drilled.

With a growing market in the composite industry, tooling plays a big part. To meet demand, the company stocks a range of end mills for same day despatch.

Specialised tooling is required to machine composites due to the extremely abrasive nature of the material. Another factor that needs to be considered is the materials resistance to cutting forces which can be reduced by applying different geometries in the design of the tool such as multiple flutes and opposing shear angles.

Drilling composite materials requires careful consideration to feeds/speeds, heat build-up and delamination which can be overcome by reducing the feedrate at the hole exit.

PCD and diamond-coated tooling allows for higher feeds and also have a higher thermal conductivity which reduces the effects of heat build and hole dimension variations. In contrast to composite drilling, a drill bit designed for metallic materials has to only remove material and clear the hole, whereas when drilling layered composite materials, the drill bit is more likely to put pressure on the layers ahead of it, which will produce delamination on the exit side.

Clear-cut solutions

The main challenges in milling composite materials are delamination, fibre break-out and heat build-up which can be overcome by using multi-fluted tools for higher feedrates with good surface finish, helical flute compression style tools for cutting grooves and trimming work to minimise fibre break-out and delamination on the top and bottom edges of the panel by applying the cutting forces inwards and pressing the layers together, or a down-cut style router for milling recesses and surfacing work as the tool geometry applies a downward cutting action.

The different challenges posed by different composite materials, such as carbon/glass fibre and plastics is the materials structure. Fabric types, like unidirectional or woven materials utilising carbon, aramid or glass fibres as the reinforcement have high strength but are difficult to cut as well as being very abrasive. Thermoplastics are more prone to heat build-up when high cutting speeds can damage or melt the resin.

Composite materials have evolved over a much shorter timescale than metals, and this has led to a lack of available historical cutting data. As cutting tool manufacturers, Prima uses its knowledge and experience of woodworking tools and materials and applies this, along with research and development to modern composites materials. In time, as more data becomes available, it should become easier for the machinist to select a standard tool for the required operation.

Prima’s current success in the aerospace, automotive, defence, motorsport and transportation sectors is underpinned by its ability to react quickly to current technology and customer demands. Its range of advanced machine tools allows us to produce PCD and tungsten carbide tooling with complex geometries in a timely manner and at a competitive price.


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