Blue Skies for Aerospace Manufacturing
The next time you’re on a Boeing 737, think about how the 367,000 parts in that plane come together to make flying the safest form of transportation available. In a recent Business Insider article, author Peter Jacobs compiles a variety of stats and concludes that “Not only are airplanes continuously getting safer, they are also the least dangerous way to get to your destination. Everyday activities from walking to driving are still considerably more lethal.” Yes, we’ve heard the joke about aircraft being the most complex machines built by the lowest bidder. But the reality is the most critical components in aerospace manufacturing are made using the most cutting-edge technology available.
Blue Skies for Aerospace Manufacturing
The aerospace industry is now undergoing one the largest booms in recent history. Flying is now inexpensive enough to be available even in countries such as China where it used to be unavailable to the majority. Right now, there are a little over 20,000 commercial jets in operation globally. Industry experts are predicting that number to double in 20 years. But aircraft production demand is even larger than that number suggests, as many aircraft in use today are near the end of their life cycle. Advances in engine technology and fuselage design are accelerating the need to replace aircraft and increase fleet efficiency. Both Airbus and Boeing are building plants in the U.S. and require a huge supply chain to support their production.
Production of Critical Flight-Ready Parts
CNC machine tools play a large part in the manufacture of a modern commercial jet. Aerospace manufacturing requires reliable and accurate machines to produce critical flight-ready parts and I’m proud to say Okuma plays a large role in making these products. Rotating engine components, surface control actuators, landing gear, wing spars and even the very seat you’re sitting in (no, we’re not responsible for the hard cushion!) These are just a few of the components manufactured on machine tools every day. How does Okuma technology contribute in these (and other) applications?
- Accuracy. Okuma has been synonymous with this word for over 100 years. Critical flight parts need to adhere to tolerances in microns and our CNC machines are up to the task.
- Reliability. Accuracy is only good if the machine is running. Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) is a critical metric in aerospace manufacturing. Users cannot afford any part holding up the delivery date of a multimillion-dollar aircraft. Okuma has a documented track record of 90 months (7.5 years) MTBF , which means reliability you can count on.
- Programs. It’s critical that only flight-certified programs are used during the manufacture of flight-critical parts. Okuma’s CNC control is fully network compatible and is easily configured to allow only certified programs to run on the machine. Okuma’s program capacity in the control is large enough to run the most complex surfacing code required.
- Connectivity. Aerospace manufacturers are required to collect data from the CNC machine tool during any cutting process on critical flight parts. OEE information is just part of it. Data points such as coolant condition (pressure, temperature, flow, concentration), tooling condition, and gaging data are just a few we’ve been asked for and provided. This may sound like futuristic stuff, but we supplied this to one of our customers way back in 1995!
- Turn-Cut. The Turn-Cut technology option from Okuma has streamlined many processes for our aerospace manufacturing customers by eliminating multiple fixturing.
- Mid-Auto Manual. Complex groove shapes in rotating jet engine parts can’t be made with one tool. Okuma’s proprietary Mid-Auto Manual feature allows the operator to accurately blend transition points inside the groove quickly and reliably.
- Long Boring Bar Option. This feature allows our multi-function CNC lathes to be more versatile in the landing gear manufacturing process.
As you zoom up to cruising altitude and await your bag of pretzels and soft drink, be confident in knowing that you’re sitting on one of the best examples of technology out there. The next 20 years will bring even more exciting advances and we’re excited to be a part of bringing cutting-edge technology to the friendly skies.
What do you think? What are the key manufacturing issues in today’s aerospace industry? Comment below and let us know what challenges and opportunities you see on the horizon. And we welcome you to contact us or your local distributor to find out how to utilize Okuma’s technology to your advantage.
Bob Baldizzi is Principal Engineer, Okuma America Corporation.
[Check out our Aerospace/Defense page to learn more about how Okuma uniquely serves the aerospace manufacturing industry.]