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Elevating Manufacturing Efficiency

By GKN Aerospace and Zoller Contributed Article
Cost savings, faster turnaround and higher performance were among the reasons GKN Aerospace brought its grinding and regrinding processes for cutting tools in-house. (All images provided by Zoller)

In the ever-evolving landscape of manufacturing, partnerships that foster innovation and efficiency are the cornerstones of success. One such collaboration is between Zoller Inc., a provider of cutting-tool management and presetting solutions, and GKN Aerospace, a global company known for its cutting-edge technology and solutions.

The powerful alliance exemplifies how strategic partnerships can reimagine manufacturing processes and drive improved levels of productivity.

GKN Aerospace has 38 manufacturing locations in 12 countries that serve some 90% of the world’s aircraft and engine manufacturers. The company’s products are used in aircraft ranging from the most used single-aisle model and the largest passenger planes to business jets and advanced 5th-generation fighters. GKN’s 4,000-sq.-ft. (371-sq-m) Newington, Conn., facility produces engine components and supplies tooling across North America.

Prior to working with Zoller, GKN ran older machines that couldn’t be upgraded or retrofitted. The manufacturer could only “shadowgraph” inspections, and its tools weren’t edge prepped or recoated after regrinds. At the time, GKN basically had hand-to-mouth production, with outdated tooling designs due to machine age.

Enhancing Efficiency Through Technology

After his 18 years of industry experience, Jeremy St. Pierre was hired to create a cutting-tool division for GKN Aerospace Engine Systems. As principal manufacturing engineer, St. Pierre needed the capability to meet the high demand of custom tooling as well as high-volume regrinds.

As the project’s scope expanded, the investment for the cutting-tool division jumped from $1 million to $4 million—but even the revised budget wasn’t enough to do things properly. As a result, St. Pierre turned to Zoller for its cutting-tool management expertise.

“We needed to creatively invest to add capability that we did not have at other sites, and we needed those investments to encompass all our needs,” St. Pierre says. He asked what his team could add to facilitate vertically integrated resources. “My plan was to design a cell that provided extreme tooling savings but also operated with minimal headcount.”

At left, Jeremy St. Pierre, principal manufacturing engineer at GKN Aerospace Engine Systems, and Jon Rodrick, Zoller Inc.’s regional sales manager, talk in front of the Zoller RoboSet 2 and Titan in GKN Aerospace’s cutter grind facility in Newington, Conn.

This is where Jon Rodrick, Zoller’s New England regional sales manager, stepped in to provide shop solutions for GKN. “Our approach with every customer, including GKN, starts with fully understanding their immediate needs and their long-term goals so we can introduce the best roadmap to arrive at that destination,” Rodrick notes. “GKN was already familiar with Zoller’s presetting equipment, and when Jeremy was looking to bring tool grinding in-house, he turned to us. Our solutions not only handle a wide range of tooling, but they also integrate automation technology that makes processes more reliable and resilient, while also helping address workforce shortages.”

At the heart of this partnership lies a shared commitment to enhancing efficiency, productivity and accuracy. St. Pierre shed light on the thought process that led to GKN’s collaboration with Zoller: “We needed to be able to accurately check our cutting tools and produce the best tooling for our specific applications. We also needed to be able to hold our outside manufacturers accountable for their quality.”

Recognizing the need for precision and accountability, GKN Aerospace turned to Zoller to provide comprehensive solutions for cutting tool management. St. Pierre said he knew Zoller’s machines were the right fit for GKN because of their ability to customize to his business needs.

“Having one machine was the best investment for us. I believe we were the first setup for Zoller’s Titan/roboSet combination in the world and that was in 2020,” St. Pierre explains. “It helped automate the inspection. It eliminated the need for one to two people on the floor. If the volume was there, it could run for two shifts unattended. The machine itself gives you an inspection report, so when you come in, you know everything that has passed inspection and can look through and see if anything needs to be reinspected. We’re around 1% scrap rate right now. We now run one shift manned, two shifts automated since grinders are automated, as well.”

Zoller’s focus on offering tailored solutions for various cutting tool needs, coupled with its automation technology, aligned with GKN Aerospace’s goals. St. Pierre notes, “The easiness of their software is great for training new employees as well as being able to sort through to find what we are looking for right away.”

Rodrick shared how the company tailors products for customers. “Zoller maintains a massive portfolio of solutions around cutting-tool management, but our goal is to find the right combination of hardware and software to meet each customer’s unique needs,” Rodrick says. This approach ensures that companies of all sizes and budgets can benefit from Zoller’s products. “The process with Jeremy unfolded the same way—lots of questions, discussions, demos, phone call and visits. Our teams in both Germany and the U.S. worked closely with him to realize his vision, and we continue to expand on that.”

St. Pierre underscores the value of customization in GKN’s collaboration with Zoller. “The Zoller Titan has the most capability of their machines. We have the ability to eliminate multiple machines and encompass them in one while being able to run this department with minimal headcount,” he adds. “Zoller Tool Management Solutions (TMS) allowed us to keep track of inventory, but also is used as our ERP (enterprise resource planning) system for the tooling department.”

Streamlining Processes Through Automation

The Zoller RoboSet 2 automation solution works with the Titan inspection machine to automate cutting tool inspection and measuring processes. This powerful combo is pictured at GKN Aerospace’s cutter grind facility in Newington, Conn.

Automation lies at the heart of Zoller’s offerings, and GKN Aerospace harnessed this capability to streamline the manufacturing processes.

“The Zoller RoboSet 2, used in conjunction with the Titan inspection machine, allowed GKN to automate these processes and still meet the incredibly tight tolerances required in aerospace manufacturing,” Rodrick says. “The ability to automate cleaning, inspecting, laser marking and loading of cutting tools for continuous 24/7 production marks a groundbreaking advancement that is transforming manufacturing operations.”

Adds St. Pierre: “The Titan allows us to completely reverse engineer tooling, so we can completely modify the tool. We can scan every feature of a cutting tool,” he continues. “When we run testing on a tool, we can inspect a tool and see what features were working, so we can modify the tool that will work for us that will modify our process better. On average, we make a tool that lasts five to seven times longer than outside tooling companies.”

Future-Proofing Manufacturing

The partnership between Zoller and GKN Aerospace builds on each company’s expertise, as well as that of key team members. St. Pierre, for example, brings nearly 20 years of knowhow to the collaboration.

GKN Aerospace uses the Zoller TMS (Tool Management Solutions) gold software package at its cutter grind facility in Newington, Conn.

“This project was a cultivation of all of that experience,” he says, noting the benefits of upfront, long-term planning. “Even if something is more than you need right now, it’s better to have an investment for a five-year plan.

“We didn’t use the automation in the Titan for a year because we didn’t need that functionality,” St. Pierre says, adding that working with Zoller helped GKN see the future instead of just what would get it by at the time. “They’re not pushy with their technology,” he says, explaining that Zoller focuses on “actually fixing” problems.

St. Pierre also has suggestions for companies looking to invest in new equipment. “My advice would be to make sure you actualize what your needs are today and a few years down the road. Try to learn from past mistakes and see where they might occur with these projects. Run through a theoretical day-to-day exercise to see if you have all items you need to finish the daily tasks.

“Bring up all issues, big or small, with suppliers. You are purchasing equipment and a good company will work with you to solve all of those that they can, as well as admit that they might not be able to.”

For more information on GKN Aerospace, visit or call 860-667-8502. For more information on Zoller, visit or call 734-332-4851.

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