How Automated Precision Machining Improves Aerospace Quality and Performance

May 29, 2024 | News, Precision Machining

Passenger airplane on maintenance repair check in airport hangar. Aircraft concept

The aerospace sector is one of the most complex industries in the world, with a global market worth more than $800 billion. Aerospace machining companies play an integral role in manufacturing parts for every aircraft or spacecraft, ensuring safety by meeting strict international safety standards. Precision machining and proper assembly of these components turn this collection of parts into aircraft that take off and land vertically, commercial airliners, smaller aircraft, spacecraft, or other machinery made to fly.

Aerospace machining companies are key to making mechanical flight safe and reliable, so their work must maintain a level of precision not needed in most other industries. Sometimes, this means working with tolerances as small as a tiny fraction of a millimeter. To achieve these extraordinarily close tolerances, much of today’s aerospace machining is automated to guarantee consistency. However, this precision must be verified and documented to meet strict regulatory requirements and industry standards.

Improving Aerospace Machining Quality & Performance

Aerospace machining companies must ensure that any components they manufacture comply with AS9100 certification. This standard requires specifications concerning the design and assembly of aerospace parts into their final form, whether an aircraft or spacecraft. Aerospace machining often utilizes automation directed by CNC technology to achieve these stringent requirements. Used widely for fabricating parts for the aerospace industry, CNC machining entails an automated process of subtractive manufacturing that takes a block of material and turns it into a precision-machined part.

Aerospace machining companies use CNC technology to produce parts for:  

  • Avionic instruments: Precision hardware like brackets, instrument panels, and mounts must be machined to endure considerable jolting and vibrations that often occur during flight.
  • Cabins: For passenger airplanes, this is the pressurized part of an aircraft containing seats, in-flight passenger storage, and entertainment systems for long-haul flights, all of which require precisely machined components.
  • Cargo bays: Cargo door hinges, cargo hoists, and hook assemblies must be consistently and precisely machined to ensure a plane’s cargo bay can adequately handle passenger baggage and other cargo.
  • Engines: This involves components like combustion chambers, compressor disks, and turbine blades machined to exceptionally tight tolerances to provide optimal efficiency and performance during flight.
  • Landing gears: For components that need to withstand heavy loads and extreme conditions, like brakes, struts, and wheels, precision aerospace machining ensures the reliability and safety of the aircraft.
  • Structural framework: To provide proper strength and rigidity, aerospace machining must ensure the accuracy of parts like bulkheads, fuselage frameworks, and wing ribs, which must fit together like a puzzle.

Aerospace machining companies use CNC technology to achieve greater accuracy in their parts. With CNC machining, manufacturers can pre-program equipment with exact instructions concerning how the tooling moves and fabricates workpieces. This helps lower the chance of inconsistencies and errors in aerospace machining operations and aids in fabricating complex designs that vary in size and shape. Additionally, the automation provided by CNC machinery allows aerospace machining companies to handle shorter lead times and meet larger orders.

Metals Used for Aerospace Machining

When thinking about aerospace machining, most people consider major components like an aircraft’s engines or wings. However, consider the largest passenger airliner in the world, the Airbus A380, which has four million distinct components made by 1500 companies in thirty different countries globally. Though not all of these parts are fabricated via automated aerospace machining techniques, most metal components are.

When it comes to materials used in aerospace machining, companies need to consider strong yet lightweight metals. As such, steel components are generally undesirable, as they’re much heavier, which makes them detrimental to the fuel efficiency of an aircraft. For this reason, most alloys used for aerospace applications involve aluminum or titanium. As such, AS9100 certification also applies to the vendors of the metals used for aircraft components and not just aerospace machining companies.

CNC technology used in aerospace engineering can handle both metals (and their alloys) quite well. Titanium is an extremely strong metal that’s half as light as steel but 30 percent stronger, offering excellent corrosion and heat resistance. This makes titanium and its alloys the best material for aircraft engines, landing gear, and other external and critical components. While only half as strong, aluminum is much less dense (titanium is 66 percent denser) and more cost-effective than titanium. Its lighter weight makes it very suitable for aerospace machining.

Multi-Axis CNC Technology for Aerospace Machining 

The exceptional complexity of machining parts for the aerospace sector means dealing with intricate geometries, for which advanced solutions involving CNC machines are ideal. Modern multi-axis machinery that uses CNC technology works well for aerospace machining. CNC machinery’s accuracy allows for more innovative designs that are increasingly common in modern aircraft. In the 21st century, aerospace machining techniques often utilize 5-axis CNC machines, which have become a basic tool for machine shops making parts for this industry.

5-axis aerospace machining permits pivoting on five axes at once, which enables machine shops to fabricate markedly complex parts more quickly. CNC machining processes let aerospace machining companies create intricate designs for aviation components that fit precisely with other parts. Aerospace machining using 5-axis CNC technology allows the making of workpieces with incredibly intricate geometries, while CNC machines can be continuously reconfigured should designs change. 

The AS9100 standard was developed to meet the unique needs of the aerospace industry and make aircraft more reliable and safe. Though local regulations may differ, aerospace machining companies must have this certification to access the sector globally. AS9100 certification focuses on product safety, managing risk, and emphasizing the need for consistency in aerospace components throughout their lifespan. This standard also applies to the defense sector, which may open up even more opportunities for aerospace machining companies.

Importance of AS9100 Certification for Aerospace Machining Companies

AS9100 certification builds upon ISO 9001, a global quality management standard widely recognized in other sectors. To work with organizations like the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), AS9100 certification is normally necessary. By obtaining AS9100 certification, aerospace machining companies exhibit their dedication to fabricating quality aviation parts, which augment safety in the sector.

Aerospace machining companies with AS9100 certification will have established a quality management system that they support and continue to improve upon. As a result, their components will have fewer defects while ensuring their processes are more efficient. Along with these aspects regarding AS9100-certified aerospace machining companies, there are special requirements concerning communications and training of employees. This will, in turn, result in better customer service and more satisfied clients.

While following this standard will help augment the quality of products and services, AS9100 certification helps aerospace machining companies follow local, regional, and global regulations, along with many countries’ aerospace legislation. AS9100 certification helps aerospace manufacturers stand out from competition that isn’t certified. For smaller machine shops looking to break into the aerospace market, following these standards helps them compete against larger aerospace machining companies.

Staub Precision Machine & Aerospace Machining 

Founded nearly half a century ago, Staub Precision Machine, Inc. performs aerospace machining and assembly operations for some of the largest manufacturers in the industry. Staub specializes in the volume fabrication of components for the aerospace sector, focusing on collaborating with customers to spark innovation. As an AS9100-certified machine shop, our company offers automated solutions with sophisticated 5-axis CNC and EDM machines, automated finishing, and other services. With an extensive array of equipment and the superior expertise of our employees, Staub provides customers with top-quality parts for the aerospace industry.  To learn more about our capabilities, contact the aerospace machining experts at Staub for your next project.