Mitsui Seiki USA Inc.
Franklin Lakes, NJ
Airlines will need more than 35,000 new airplanes valued at $4.8 trillion between 2014 and 2032. The major aerospace OEMs are currently outsourcing about 40% of the machining to their suppliers, and that percentage will increase. Airplane factories want to build aircraft like automotive plants build cars. This means they require consistent, predictable output from their assembly bays. The demand on the supply chain is to provide exceptional quality parts and subassemblies exactly when the OEMs need them. While this paradigm is developing suppliers must be smart and agile to manage the peaks and valleys in their businesses.
The aerospace industry has calculated the number of “spindles” required in its supply chain to make a number of different structural and engine parts. This term refers to the machine tool spindle ready to make parts 98.9% of the time. In some cases, there are enough spindles in the supply base for the volume; however those machines may need to be replaced featuring the latest design attributes, control systems, spindles, and tooling technologies to meet the management mandates for quality and reliability to support peak production rates.
There are basically four size classifications of structural components and machine capacities to match the need: less than a half meter in length, less than a meter in length, less than 2.5 m in length, and over 2.5 m in length. Currently there are enough machines in the global supply base to produce structural components under a half a meter—titanium parts such as end support brackets that go on the composite floor beams in a 787, wing tip leading edges, and trunnion straps. If a shop isn’t able to machine titanium cost-effectively, and wants to remain in or go after this highly competitive market sector, start researching the machine tool characteristics required to cut titanium in the vertical or horizontal trunnion styles with 500-mm pallets.
In the medium size range, about one meter, the estimated number of new spindles needed to support the rate increases is 1200 units. That’s a growth area that will require horizontal trunnion-style machines with 630–1000-mm pallet sizes to machine such components as wing flap hinges, wheel well squash plates, and a variety of engine mounts for the various new engines.
The third category for structural component growth is the 1–2.5-m parts such as helicopter rotor components, squash plates, hinges and cuffs. About 600 additional 2.5-m horizontal trunnion machines will be required to cut these difficult alloy materials. Regarding the fourth category, for components greater than 2 m such as side body cores and bulkheads that require typically large gantry mills to make them, there are currently enough of these in the chain to accommodate the volume. If a supplier is serving this market already, the company may want to consider rebuilding the heads and retrofitting those massive tools with advanced controls to ensure continued customer satisfaction with quality and delivery.
On the engine side, there are basically two general categories of parts—engine cases and gearboxes and a variety of blades. There are enough machines competitively producing cases and gearboxes to meet the anticipated rates. To keep this business, machines need to be very accurate—and not just machining accuracy but also the machine itself. I mean straightness, parallelism, flatness, and squareness to within two arc seconds accurate. To achieve this level of construction precision, which also provides the necessary high volumetric machining accuracy, requires the experienced craftsmanship of hand scraping and fitting, a temperature- and humidity-controlled factory, a special foundation imparting negligible vibration in the assembly bay, meticulous laser inspection as routine, and more.
The variety of blades needed presents a significant growth opportunity. Approximately 200 new five-axis simultaneous control machines are required to accommodate rises in the demand for blisks, impellers, and fan blades. About 1600 new units will be necessary to handle single blade production and 600 to support the surge in IBR production.
Aerospace component manufacturing is engaging and challenging. Working with tough stainless blends, nickel alloys, and titanium grades can be difficult. Then there are the OEM mandates, which are strict. However, if a supplier is ready now or working toward attracting aero customers, the opportunity is here, along with the knowledge, guidance, and manufacturing technology to be successful and rewarded.
Published Date : 6/5/2015