Issue September / October 2007
Strong support from Mifa
Mifa Aluminium specialises in aluminium precision extrusion, machining, surface treatment, investment casting and assembly, manufacturing tailor-made solutions for a diverse range of markets including aerospace, medical and the electronics industry.
As a company that prefers demanding opportunities, Mifa uses its experience stretching over two decades to concentrate on specialist and customised sectors requiring high precision in smaller volumes, complemented by a wide range of ancillary services.
“Our headquarters are based in Venlo, The Netherlands, as is our manufacturing site, and we have sales offices in France, Germany, Sweden, and the UK,” reveals UK sales manager Clive Stanley. “We’re one of 86 companies operating in Aalberts Industries N.V. within its Industrial Services division, which has 12 core companies working together on projects such as aerospace military defence contracts.”
As an internationally oriented company, Mifa exports approximately 80 per cent of its products mand is active in a variety of markets worldwide. “We are one of Europe’s leading producers of antennas and wave guides for radar for defence, Navy and leisure boats and traffic control,” says Clive. “We operate throughout Europe and in the US, and a big aspect of our business is producing external and internal components for both civil and military aircraft. Extrusion is very diverse but our lucrative core sectors – medical, aerospace and defence – are the areas we want to exploit.”
Mifa collaborates with clients to develop projects for the benefit of both parties and operates, to an extent, as a one-stop shop. Clive explains: “Our relationship with clients starts at the design stage with regards to how the customer wants to make the extrusion most effective. Our major clients want to reduce their supplier base and, as we offer an extensive assortment of services, we save them five or six additional suppliers. It starts with basic extrusion and from there we machine the material into a sub-structure, surface coat it, assemble it and add to it with castings, machining and components to make, for example, complete subassembles for aircraft.”
Mifa’s commercial director Michel Kurstjens adds: “One-stop shopping is taking off rapidly and customers confidently trust us with part of their process. We outsource if we can’t provide a service but try to work in-house because this is ideal when using high-end technology. Many companies purport to be a one-stop-shop but subcontract 80 per cent of the work, so they’re largely dependent on suppliers. If we do have to subcontract then immediately afterwards we tend to buy that technology and develop it ourselves.”
Being a company focused on high-end technology and innovation, Mifa’s R&D department is extremely active, says Michel: “We define R&D in two sub-disciplines. There’s fundamental research that develops basic technologies and concepts for customers, such as developing new alloys, which has led to the extrusion of magnesium. The second area is customer related because if we stumble into problems we can’t initially solve, we ask our R&D department to develop a specific solution. Our research targets usually form a three-year plan because we want to be ahead of the competition, using technology to distinguish Mifa from mass production extruders.”
Mifa welcomes demanding opportunities and supports customers consistently. “We work with customers early in development when large volumes are uncertain whereas most competitors would only get involved when the volume is interestingly high,” asserts Michel. “It’s impossible to predict early on and usually just one in ten projects turn out into a high volume application, eight fail and one is a small volume application. We can potentially suffer when customers’ ideas don’t work out but we’re willing to take this risk.”
Michel believes in promoting efficiency through modern machinery and balancing automation with a strong workforce: “Maintaining manufacturing efficiency requires constant investment as we need our machines to be up-to-date and up to speed. This year we bought five brand new machines with the latest technology. We try to automate where possible as well as maintain an excellent workforce because the investment in knowledge is very high and, even with the most modern CAD/CAM technology, we need grey hairs in our company. We’re currently investing in our first robot, which is interesting due to the highly diverse, low volumes that we produce – we can make 500 housings for a camera then in the same machine afterwards make 20 parts for a landing gear and after that it could be 2000 components for cars. The variety is enormous and attempting to automate is a huge challenge, though diversity is one of our key strengths.”
Exhibitions raise Mifa’s profile and strengthen the company’s portfolio of services, says Clive: “Exhibitions throw a big net over a geographical area and attract a wide range of companies with differing manufacturing techniques and products. They’re ‘see and be seen’ exercises to publicise Mifa. Sometimes it’s as basic as letting customers know that aluminium profile is not just used for window frames but high accuracy components in, for example, fighter aircraft – we educate people on the scale and the breadth of extrusion.”
The company has also been researching new materials that offer superior results. “We’re the only company working increasingly with metal matrix composites, which are extrudable derivatives of aluminium and have a titanium quality,” says Clive.
Michel sees numerous benefits in using alternative materials and huge potential with Mifa’s work on magnesium: “The titanium substitute project is a spearhead of our R&D programme as it’s interesting to develop an aluminium based extrudable alloy with the properties of titanium, considering that titanium cannot be extruded, is expensive and fairly scarce as a base material. We’ve also mastered the difficult extrusion of magnesium alloys and we’re industrialising those applications. We can extrude any material containing aluminium and magnesium, perfecting the extrusion of magnesium in two of the most common alloys, AZ31 and AZ61.”
Mifa’s plans include progression into new markets and focusing on demanding projects. “We focus on high-tech work because I believe in saying no to low-tech opportunities to avoid diluting our factory’s level of technology. We try to develop annually either through identifying opportunities in current geographical areas or adding more areas, and are now looking towards Italy and Spain. The company’s vision will always be centered on high precision extrusion and the applications in small volumes are infinite. We’ve only scratched the surface so far and it’s now just a matter of publicising both Mifa and extrusion,” Michel concludes.
Products: Aluminium profiles
Sites: The Netherlands