Work Surfaces In High-Performance, Advanced Material Manufacturing

Today’s high-performance teams in the auto and aviation industries all have one thing in common – a relentless commitment to optimum performance in every area.

In the highly competitive world of performance motorsports, crossing that finish line first or breaking a new record by milliseconds comes from the disciplined approach to every detail of testing, development, and production. Tomorrow’s success relies on everything today being the best in class; people, materials, tools, and processes.  As Henry Ford said “Quality means doing it right when no one else is looking” – success comes from what’s behind the scenes.

Why Mats Matter

Here in this article, we zoom in on one particular item found in most top-end engineering and advanced manufacturing facilities. It’s something that’s seldom on the front-page news but nevertheless comes into daily contact with the expensive materials, complex components, precision tools, and highly skilled engineers that lie behind all the leading marques. You’ll find them in workshops from Aston Martin to Williams – in fact let’s take that to ‘Z’ so we can include the exquisite Zagato – the Italian Atelier of bespoke supercar “clothing”.

We’re talking about the work surface protection mat.

Robust, high functioning, reliable, clean, premium and protective – high-performance industries require high-performance work surface mats.

We’ve written previously about foreign objects and contamination being a concern in carbon fibre buildups for high-speed cars and aerospace engineering. The integrity of finished carbon-fibre structures rely on meeting the predetermined strength-to-weight calculations of the material, which can be adversely affected by chemical or physical contaminants.

A surprising number of small components in cutting-edge motorsports and aviation are made, assembled, and inspected on industrial workbenches by mechanics and Quality Control personnel. This is where the interface of digital transformation and advanced mechanical engineering is often found in key UK and European industries.

From test instruments to working on avionics such as gimbals and navigation equipment, there is a need for the vibration-damping, non-slip surface that a surface protection mat provides.  

R&D Partnerships

Some of the most exciting aerospace developments today are coming out of partnerships between high-value manufacturers, and dedicated research centres – often universities but also some independently owned. Without these collaborations, it becomes difficult for both start-ups and traditional manufacturers to invest in the expensive but vital R&D to keep up with rapid changes, and universities and grant schemes are at risk of becoming detached from practical applications. These R&D manufacturing hubs provide a safe space for pushing the boundaries of possibility. As the aviation legendary entrepreneur and composite carbon-fibre pioneer, Burt Rutan put it “Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding”. This culture lives on at Scaled Composites, the aircraft development business he founded, in their philosophy of “safe failure”.

Some notable UK innovation hubs working on advanced materials, manufacturing techniques and electronics for aviation include Bristol’s National Composite’s Centre, Sheffield University & Boeing’s AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre), Cranfield’s business incubation and the University of Oxford’s Henry Royce Institute. The Aerospace Technology Institute provides networking and strategic guidance to UK aviation businesses, fuelling the growth of sustainable flying.

And when it comes to drone manufacture, workbenches topped with surface mats make the ideal setup for UAV assembly and servicing work, a rapidly growing industry alongside electric-powered and VTOL air transport. Current R&D and ongoing test projects are showing promising prospects of shaking up urban and regional air travel mobility, known as Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).

Surface Protection Made Easy

So what makes the ideal surface protection mat in these high-tech sectors?

Firstly they must have some ‘give’ in them, so no hard materials.  They need to be easy to clean and completely free from dust and fibres. This rules out most fabrics and natural products such as hardwoods. Self-healing will help avoid a build up of grooves or pits in the surface, even if no cutting is actually involved. Invisible to the eye, being free of silicones and PTFE is a requirement that some processes call for.  Some workstations need a large area free from joins, so material widths must be considered. Finally, some surfaces will need to be free from static build-up, requiring anti-static properties.

Of course, no one material will perfectly fulfil every attribute, but there are definitely some that stand out as better than others, and picking the right material is a process that must be worked through carefully.

One example would be the Rhino Heavy-Duty cutting mat.

Made to the required size with options up to nearly 5m long, these mats give you a seamless worksurface that’s easy to clean, non-fibre shedding, and can withstand multiple cuts and abrasions from tools. They were developed to help control cross-contamination and foreign objects/dust marring high-tech materials in advanced manufacturing. As the work surface typically experiences frequent contact with multiple materials, tools, and mechanics it needs to be non-dust producing and resistant to cleaning chemicals.

Where a fixed metal worktop surface is too conductive, hard, or slippery for an application, a large 4.5mm or 6mm thick Rhino cutting mat provides a great improvement. The firm, dense surface with the right amount of ‘give’ reduces the risk of vibration or impact damage, without the clean-down and surface break-up issues of timber-based and MDF worktops.

Rhino heavy-duty surface protection cutting mats are made free of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and Silicones and their smooth, self-healing surface reduces the risk of surface debris contaminating performance-critical materials.

Committed to the highest performance, reliability and durability, Rhino are proud of providing the optimum work surface in support of many cutting-edge innovations and production facilities in advanced manufacturing. 

If better workbench surfacing could help enhance your project or process, give us a call to assess your requirements today, or check out our mat’s performance features overview.

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