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3D Printing for rapid prototyping

It was inevitable that 3D printing would become part of the service AFAC would provide for prototyping parts. For some time the compromise on quality against cost of equipment was too great for the company to bear. As with all technology, the investment costs have been reducing and the quality of outut has been improving.

Recently, a new customer to AFAC contacted us about multiple problems they were experiencing with their existing masking solutions. As with any customer experiencing issues, AFAC set about understanding the causes before proposing solutions.

One of the problems being experienced was a component with a bore to be masked through a plating process. Not just any bore though, this was more complicated than anything the standard ranges could mask efficiently enough to avoid post plating rework.

Working from drawings of the component, AFAC has designed a plug specially for the application. Due to NDA we can’t publish any images. Because of the same NDA, releasing drawings to the mould maker and parts manufacturer in the far east isn’t an option.

For this customer and it’s likely many others, reaching the point of having a final product design and prototype before anything is sent for production is desirable. It protects secrecy, speeds up the prototyping process and enables product modifications more easily.

3D printing a working sample has long been practice in many industries. The products AFAC makes are elastomeric or rubberised. The properties of rubber are built in to designs to improve seal, fit and usability. A hard plastic solution wouldn’t be a satisfactory solution.

Finally, there is a product that reports to have the accuracy, finish and output properties required to prototype simple and complex rubber components for manufacturers.

AFAC is pleased to be running live trials of this solution with the customer mentioned above. If you’re interested in finding out the outcome please get in touch.

Have you got a finishing issue that you’re finding tricky to resolve? Speak to the experts. We’ve been doing this 40 years!

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AFAC Lockdown Move

The plan had always been to be in the new premises for April 1st. The plan was not to move everything on my own in my van! That’s how it turned out though…

Beginning of March my wife and I self isolated for 2 weeks in accordance with advice having travelled from Italy. Just as we were coming to the end of this, the government closed schools and lockdown began. Mid March, country in lockdown, new premises to move to, old premises to get out of.

Had no choice, I had to start loading up my van and getting on with it. I’m so glad I’d put in the time to planning what was going where some time in advance…

It probably took 15 van loads in the end and a lot of lifting. Knowing where everything was going and having extra space to spread out actually made the move pretty painless. By April 1st I was sat at my desk. Patchy internet and phone coverage but that’s to be fixed.

I’m pleased to say, just as manufacturing demands have started shifting, the business is in its strongest position yet to be able to service new customers with urgent supplies.

The website also had a large overhaul before the move to make finding products and options easier than ever.

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Huge Systems Upgrade at AFAC

For the past 12 months, AFAC has been going through a business streamlining process in order to bring its infrastructure systems up to today’s demanding digital standards. The company had been running on legacy systems inherited when the business transferred over to the founder’s son 5 years ago.

What that means is things were taking longer than they should do and communication between systems was limiting. This had no negative impact on AFAC’s outstanding quality record but it limited opportunities for business growth. These challenges, we’re aware, affect many small businesses, particularly those with long trading histories.

AFAC celebrates 40 years of trade this year to give you some idea. Today’s market is a completely different landscape to 1980 when business began. Computers weren’t a luxury back then. Communication was pretty much limited to the telephone and handwriting. Imagine that! How would young people of today cope?

Well similarly, how do old businesses cope?

Change! That’s the method. Adapt! That’s the strategy. AFAC has always aimed to provide a brilliant user experience. By phone and email the company’s been able to service quality conscious manufacturing business nationally and internationally. Through growth come challenges though. Skills availability is limited. Technology investments are usually front loaded. The odds of being able to do it all are somewhat stacked against the micro-business. The skills needed are so wide it’s very difficult to keep all the work in-house.

Ryan, the business owner, set about putting a plan together that would enable AFAC to communicate essential information with its customers, avoid unnecessary replication of information, limit human error as much as possible and integrate with wider business systems to open untapped markets. Quite a list! Luckily, we’ve been able to do it all in-house so far.

Well we’re pleased to announce the first major milestone has been reached. It’s taken for granted in businesses where it works but cleansing a 40 year old system with accuracy and migrating all information into new stock management, accounts and website systems has been an arduous task.

Now, all stock products are listed on our website with real-time stock levels. OK so there’s a bit of cleaning up to do but if stock is showing it’s definitely on our shelves!

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NEWS: AFAC signs lease for new premises!

AFAC HQ

AFAC has been growing consistently and the time has come for new premises. The company is very pleased to announce, after a lot of searching, a new home has been found! Based in the villages to the north of Bedford, still with easy access to the M1 and A1, the new premises are located on an idyllic farm.

What does this mean for AFAC customers? It’s good news all round as the warehouse space and office space increases. Current stocks normally sit at around 2 million parts. The new building will enable the business to up this to somewhere around 8 million should we need to.

Our in-house production facility for self adhesive shapes will also be improving. With a dedicated clean room housing our machinery and preparation areas, custom cut shapes will be produced in dust free surroundings enabling us to maintain strict quality standards.

Ryan Mullins, Director

With future plans for further investment into rapid prototyping, the new premises provides sufficient space for those plans to be realised too.

In terms of schedule, the lease has just been signed with a start date to coincide with the new financial year. Hopefully keys will be received prior to this but that’s the official date. As customers will appreciate, there’s a lot to be done between now and then in terms of preparation.

A full stock check will take place on arrival to ensure stock levels are correct. This is in preparation for plans to take all products online. The company website will be improved as well as opening up sales channels into EBay and Amazon.

Aligning our stock system to work properly with our website, Amazon and EBay has been a challenging feat. Over the years the stock management system has inherited various anomalies that have had to be cleansed completely to allow the business to run efficiently in today’s market.

Ryan Mullins, Director

The new premises will also house dedicated photography and videography equipment to enable supporting media for the companies online activities. AFAC is headed up by Ryan Mullins whose background is marketing and media. The business has strong plans to utilise enhanced technology to further improve customer experience.

It’s exciting times for AFAC and the owners are delighted to be improving their ability to service UK manufacturing to the highest standards. AFAC is a primary supplier of masking systems into the Aerospace, Electronic, Automotive and metal finishing sectors.

The company has come a long way since I started 40 years ago. I’m delighted to see the business flourishing and this move is an exciting time for the family. The location is wonderful and I look forward to spending some time with my son at the new unit.

Lee Mullins, Founder
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Masking Tape Dispenser | AFAC’s MASK-KING

MASK-KING Masking Tape Dispenser

The Masking Tape Dispenser just makes handling your self-adhesive masking materials easier.

The use of masking tapes and self adhesive shapes can be more complicated and messy than it needs to be.

  • Finding the end of the roll
  • Sticky excess
  • Losing the right width tape
  • Having to measure which tape or spot you need

It’s a problem that’s occurred for years and of all the metal finishing plants we’ve visited, we’ve never seen a really efficient way to handles tapes and self adhesive masking products.

The Mask-King Masking Tape Dispenser is an obvious choice for anyone handling multiple widths of tapes and spots / shapes. This convenient machine allows you to rack up your tapes and shapes so they are dispensed readily with minimum wastage and tidy disposal of excess.

Using MASK-KING Masking Tape Dispenser

  • Simple, quick & easy
  • Tape is ready to use
  • Spots, dots and shapes are much easier to handle
  • Excess and waste is easier to discard
  • Workstation is more organised

Finally you can set up your masking station so you can access all the bits you need.

The MASK-KING Masking Tape Dispenser from AFAC makes using self adhesives quick, easy and tidy. Made from industrial standard mild steel and hard wearing plastics, the MASK-KING is a bench-top necessity for anyone using masking tapes and shapes.

The MASK-KING Masking Tape dispenser is a simple machine. It makes it easier to handle multiple sizes of tape and shapes in one easy to use dispenser. Tapes can be tricky enough for finding the end and for knowing which size is which on the bench. Spots and shapes have a backing you’ll want to discard of as you use the shapes.

Product Features

  • Industrial grade materials for long life
  • Maintenance-free product
  • Guide rollers for ease shape and spot dispensing
  • Sharp serrated edge for precise cutting of tape
  • Adjustable dividers to fit different widths of tape
  • Sucker feet so it stays still!
  • Holds multiple rolls and dispenses easily
  • Easily change single or multiple rolls

Product Details

  • Length: 12.32″
  • Width: 14.63″
  • Height: 7.00″
  • Max Roll Width: 12″ (305mm)
  • Max outside diameter of Roll: 6″ (152mm)
  • Core size: universal
  • Weight: 4.3kg
  • Operation: Manual
  • Dispensed Products: Tapes, Shapes, Spots, Dots, Tabs

Related Products

So that you can start using your MASK-KING Tape dispenser as soon as you receive it please add your extra tapes, shapes, discs, spots, dots and tabs here:

High Temperature Masking Tape: High Temperature Masking Tape

High Temperature Masking Shapes, discs, spots, dots and tabs: High Temperature Masking Disks / Spots / Dots / Tabs

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The London to Brighton Off Road Cycling Event

London | Brighton Off Road

Company Director, Ryan Mullins has just signed up for the London to Brighton off road cycling event. This charity event organised by the British Heart Foundation stretches over 71 / 74 miles (depending what page you read). That 3 mile difference will probably feel like the length of England on the day……

Ryan is the son of company founder Lee Mullins and has been in charge now for nearly 3 years. Lee has taken retirement and now spends most of his time either at the local aircraft museum or tinkering with cars in his garage at home.

So why did Ryan decide on the London to Brighton off road?

Ryan is a keen cyclist and a British Cycling qualified level 2 coach. Not only does he ride bikes but he enjoys building them too. His main passion is mountain biking which he said this about.

I love getting out in the woods at the weekends. It’s so peaceful and I get a mix of adrenaline, fitness and general wellbeing. Ryan Mullins

When Ryan heard about the London to Brighton off road he had immediately said he would like to take part. 2018 seemed the perfect year for it with a combination of fitness and equipment that would form a great foundation for working up to the 70+ mile adventure. The fact it’s for a good cause too just makes it all the more worthwhile.

Ryan will be knuckling down with a training regime over the next few months which includes a 50 mile off road event more locally at Milton Keynes in the summer.

Visit Ryan’s Just Giving page here if you’d like to make a contribution to the British Heart Foundation and sponsor Ryan’s London to Brighton ride.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

If you’re interested in taking part, visit this link: BHF London to Brighton Off Road

 

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AFAC have a hack for that!

As we are sure you already know, AFAC’s range of products are used throughout the finishing industry to mask areas where coating would be detrimental to the finished product. However, what isn’t generally known are the more unusual uses we’ve been contacted for over the years.

Back in the 1980’s, a range of precision made silicone rubber tubes were developed specifically to fit snugly over metric studs, to prevent the threads becoming contaminated by electro-static powder coating.  Usually these tubes were supplied in cut lengths, to suit the maximum length of thread found on weld and self-clinching studs. An increasing number of customers began to request the tube supplied in long lengths, for them to cut to lengths that suited them.

It turns out that our M4 tube was also ideal for aquarium air supplies and aquarists couldn’t get enough of it. Our standard green colour blended in with the fish tanks’ underwater vegetation and, unlike the natural rubber tubes used at the time, AFAC’s BAKEWELL silicone rubber didn’t deteriorate with time, was unaffected by the exposure to warm water and was easy to wipe clean.

And in keeping with the aquatic theme…

If you have one of those nice plastic or rubber pond liners, we all know how easy they are to fit. Dig a pond shaped hole, line it with some sand and just throw in the liner. Trim and add slabs or rocks around the edges and fill with water. Add the odd water plants, gnomes and possibly some fish.

Perfect way to relax…until one day you notice the majority of the water originally in the pond, seems to have evaporated! So, out with the hose and top it up again. Repeat until you grudgingly admit there may be a leak. However, on close examination you discover it’s not a leak, but instead it’s multiple leaks. Some head scratching later the answer is discovered.

It’s your friendly local heron.

When you are not sitting in you deckchair, the blighter drops in for a snack. It spots a fish and stabs at it, but it doesn’t always succeed in impaling the prey, but instead impales your pond liner. The more, or possibly less, fish available to him, the more or less holes in the liner.

I suffered from this phenomenon and it took me a while to twig it was all the work of the heron, but not to worry, you just need to patch the holes. Easier said than done, as I discovered.

There must be an AFAC hack for that!

Walking through the warehouse, I saw some of our BAKEWELL PLUGS being packed up to ship to a customer and I suddenly realised that these could be the solution to the leaky liner!

Back home, with a selection of sizes of the silicone rubber BAKEWELL PLUGS, I soon found one of the several alternative sizes could be pushed into the heron created holes, until the head butted up against the liner. When the pond was topped up again, the leaks were gone and the weight of the water pushing down on the head of the BAKEWELL PLUG, prevented them from coming out, while the tapered opposite end made for an easy seal.

As a by-product of the properties of the silicone rubber they are manufactured from, the plugs won’t deteriorate with time, heat or cold, even at temperatures well below zero degrees.

Quick, simple, effective, but not at all what they were originally designed to do.

Have you any interesting alternative uses for AFAC products?  We’d love to hear your stories.

The best one will be published!  (Suitability to family viewing taken into account)

 

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AFAC are growing and it’s good news for customers!

AFAC has undergone some changes over the past 12 months, starting with the retirement of Director Lee Mullins. Son Ryan has stepped into his shoes after 25 years of supporting his father and learning the ropes.  AFAC is the end to end silicone rubber specialist and specialist rubber manufacturing.

Ryan brings a fresh approach and the enthusiasm to build further on his father’s years at the forefront.

So what does this mean to you?

On March the 1st, the full operation comes under 1 roof with a brand new custom built warehouse facility with additional staff to help support the growing and changing needs of our customers.

This means even more flexibility in service, product and provision with:-

  • Extended last order hours for next day delivery*
  • Collections available 6 days a week
  • Lower minimum order quantities
  • Reseller starter boxes
  • Selection packs
  • Over 1 million products in stock
  • Convenient location between the M1 and A1

Our bespoke facility enables us to customise orders, big and small whilst also speeding up turnaround times. Product ranges are already developing and expanding to meet the growing needs of the individuals. Be this health & safety officers, schools, researchers or specialist manufacturers.

Possibly our most exciting development is the addition of an in-house product designer who brings with him years of experience along with a 21st century approach to design and technology. The benefits of a custom design include:

  • Increased lifespan due to fit for purpose design and decreased wear and tear
  • Lower end product wastage
  • Improved labour efficiency and speed
  • Reduction in bottom line costs

In fact it’s something we do for customers all over the world already.

With over 35 years experience AFAC is the owner managed business you can rely on.

I’m sure you will agree it’s a very exciting time here at AFAC! With great strides however comes the inevitable disruption and we ask all our customers to bear with us through the move. Service continues as normal but there may be a bit of a delay in response times as we take extra care to make sure everything is in place and working efficiently.

And in the run up? Our biggest sale in history! See our promotion for details.

You will find out new facility at Unit 2 Caxton Road, Bedford MK41 0HT

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Director Lee Mullins reflects on 35 years

AFAC Director Lee Mullins retires after 35 years at the top.

Lee Mullins had worked in the industrial fastener industry, both in spring and plastic clips, before entering the world of weldable fasteners. It seemed that most companies in that industry had restrictive practices regarding sizes of fasteners stock and minimum quantities. Lee decided he could address some of these shortcomings by forming his own company.

It was 35 years ago that Lee Mullins launched Applied Fastenings and Components as a supplier of captive fasteners for manufacturers. The company did however deviate shortly after into the supply of masking products to protect the threads of its captive fasteners as powder coating took over from wet paint spraying, the business focus moved and silicone rubber became the material of choice. Designs were developed and the masking products division launched. AFAC was born, using the initials from the original company.

We caught up with Lee to hear about the highs, lows and what the future holds.

 

What will you miss most about working for AFAC?

The relationships I have developed over the years, with both customers and suppliers. I’ll also miss the daily challenges presented by different industries. We have solved masking problems from the masking of tractor wheels, oil well electrical enclosures, motor yachts, automotive structures and even aircraft undercarriages and railway rolling stock.

How have you seen the engineering and metal finishing industry change over the past 35 years?

As most of AFAC’s customers are manufacturing products from metal, it has become apparent that many of the smaller companies have been absorbed into larger organizations, with many establishing overseas divisions, to take advantage of lowers costs. With the advent of the container ships, transport is no longer a major cost consideration. AFAC now exports a significant proportion of its products to Europe and the Middle East as a result.

What is your proudest working moment?

Designing and developing a practical masking system for powder coaters in the mid 1980’s that is still used extensively today. Proving that my ideas to give customers what they wanted, rather than dictate what they could or couldn’t have. We tried, and usually succeeded in giving the customer exactly what they needed and in the quantity they wanted. My original designs are still popular and effective over 30 years after stepping into the unknown and developing a practical masking system for powder coaters. At the time there were no products to fulfill the needs of the embryo powder coating users. Now you see so many products in day to day life and I can say “That was made cheaper and quicker, thanks to my ideas.”

Where do you see AFAC moving in the future?

Under the wing of my son Ryan, I can foresee increased sales into overseas markets, particularly in custom designed parts. This will be largely as a result of Ryan’s expertise in maximizing our internet presence, which now attracts far higher traffic levels than I would have thought possible. I will remain available to AFAC as Chairman, though I think this means I may be consulted if experience is needed!

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Specialist bespoke metal fabrication requires specialist bespoke silicone rubber mouldings

Bespoke rubber mouldings for masking and other applications in low volume  fabrications.

There are thousands of companies producing low volume metal fabrications for specialist applications in vehicles. This isn’t just specific to motor vehicles either. The UK is not only a leading exported of motor vehicles but also aerospace, defence, shipping and other modes of transport. Trains are also produced in the UK.

The UK has always been famous for pioneering design and bespoke solutions. Whether its military conversions on vehicles, emergency vehicles or any other short production run such as motorsport, the UK is world renowned for design and bespoke manufacturing.

For manufacturers and sub contractors, the processes on short production runs can be very similar to large volume production. The main difference being that the big robotic production lines aren’t often used in low volume manufacturing, but that in its self is why the UK is so different. There are thousands of small engineering firms across the UK producing bespoke assemblies for defence, aerospace, motorsport and specialist vehicles.

By the very nature of bespoke and limited run, masking can also take on a need for bespoke applications. AFAC has over the years produced a wide variety of custom silicone rubber mouldings for these niche industries.

Case study of bespoke silicone rubber mouldings for low volume metal fabrication work

For one customer, when the military were still using Land Rovers as a principle vehicle, they were installing a radio rack into the rear of the vehicle. It was a simple design of a plate with oval holes reamed out of it to allow adjustment of the radio.

The problem was that the bolts and washers used to fix the radio to the plate were also the earthing points. As a result, an area around each oval hole needed masking to allow for the movement that had been built into the design.

Using the BAKEWELL Silicone Rubber TUGPLUG as a basis for the design, we created an oval section and then added a “washer” into the design with a sealing lip around the edge for quality of finish. The first design was prototyped and worked perfectly.

Tooling is relatively inexpensive and the production run was only a matter of a few hundred items.

The Outcome

Satisfied customer and problem solved.

Working on limited volume fabrications and have a need for custom rubber mouldings or extrusions? Get in touch right now on 0845 094 0522