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SME Speaks: Technology Challenges on the Manufacturing Horizon

When I was asked to write this "SME Speaks" guest editorial, I thought that it would be simply a matter of listing the technologies that I am currently looking at in my day-to-day work. However, the more I thought about it and the more I tried to write, I realized that there is a very large human-relationship side to technology development. I have picked three areas that I see as critical challenges to the manufacturing world, and I want to share the following thoughts with you.

I'll wager that 75% of those reading this article are involved in machining metals. I'll also lay a wager that 15 years ago that figure would have been much closer to 95%!

Over the past decade, it appears that the sole focus of materials research has been in the development of composite materials. The Boeing 777 first flew in 1994 and was approximately 10% composite by weight. The 787, which was recently launched, is 50% composite by weight. Based on this "Rate of Climb," the next-generation single aisle aircraft will be 65% composite by weight, and by 2025 the all-composite aircraft will be a reality!

If metals are to maintain their place on modern aerospace platforms, it's time we stop taking them for granted and continue to develop their manufacturability. This process, and I shall borrow a phrase from a colleague in the aerospace industry, is called RTM—Return to Metal!

The equation that leads to component selection for civil aerospace platforms is a complex one involving the balance of variables of mechanical properties, weight, and size, against longevity and cost. It is therefore vital that the properties, weight and size are not fixed by our design colleagues before we, as manufacturing engineers, get to address the cost and longevity factors. Only in this way will the product "buy its way on" to a platform by meeting the required balance of the equation.

In the 13 years between the 777 and the 787, advances in manufacturing capability through technology have made it possible not only to machine complex profiles, but to remove metal at a rate far beyond our wildest dreams.

The advances in metal-removal technology have been rapid. High speed machining using dynamic analysis of machine tools, developments in tool design and carbide technologies, together with the increased accuracy, power, and improved dynamics of machine tools, have all made contributions to the reduced time to form metal.

This has led to the belief that manufacturing costs have reduced, whereas the reality is that work expands to fit the time available! The advent of CAD/CAM solutions has led the design engineering world to produce ever more carefully crafted design solutions and, because adding a virtual line/radius or feature is so quick and easy, we are sometimes prone to forget that we are dealing with physical parts.


Challenge Number 1: Making the Silk Sow

To compete globally, companies must fully integrate their design, analysis and manufacturing engineering processes. Companies must also form close partnerships with their supply chain manufacturers.

Norman Augustine, the former executive vice president of the great American aerospace company Martin Marietta, wrote a book about business management called "Augustine's Laws," and many of his laws are applicable to the world of manufacturing. Augustine's first law states, "The best way to make a silk purse from a sow's ear is to start with a silk sow." It must be the function of the manufacturing engineer to help make the silk sow.

The designer who does not know at least the basics of manufacturing methods, machine capabilities, and CNC programming will not be able to design products that are cost-effective for manufacture. Similarly, the manufacturing engineer who does not know the function of the components that he is making is unable to offer design solutions to improve the function and manufacturability of the product.


Challenge Number 2: Research & Development

Manufacturing engineers must be deeply involved with research and development in engineering companies. Manufacturing engineers are the key to the notoriously difficult phase of technology implementation, and without their involvement many wonderful ideas, concepts, and lab-proven technologies will need to be deconstructed and rebuilt to provide a viable cost-effective manufacturing process. This will add cost and time to the development process.

So often we find that new materials are developed and used in the design of products to save weight or increase performance. However, when these designs are delivered to manufacturing, it's discovered that the time taken to process a workpiece into a finished component has a massive impact on the cost of the product. We then enter cost-reduction exercises that only serve to push up the NRC of the project. Getting it right the first time requires planning, skill, good communications, and huge effort in the R&D phase if we are to reach the right balance between material choice and cost.


Challenge Number 3: Consume Less

We need to listen to the younger generation. For example, my children are constantly reciting what they have learned at school regarding the conservation of our planet: "Reduce, reuse, recycle—in that order, Daddy!"

The current "buy to fly" ratios in the aerospace industry, I conservatively estimate, are in the region of 2.5:1. Sixty percent of the raw material we buy is machined away, costing both time and money as well as producing waste. If we were able to reduce the waste by only 10% the savings would be enormous, both in terms of material-spend and for the environment. The global production of titanium sponge in 2006 was a staggering 127 million kg, requiring some 6365 MW-hr of energy. A reduction of 10% in the material we use would save enough energy to power 636,000 average homes, and improve the bottom line.

The production of near-net-shape preforms is key to reducing our consumption of materials. Shaped metal deposition, laser deposition, hipped castings, and reductive welding technologies are all manufacturing technologies that must be developed and adopted to keep competitive in the current aerospace environment.

To summarize these challenges then, the production of high-quality cheap components is all about effective communication across the complete range of engineering disciplines. Communication, teamwork, and cooperation are the challenges facing us all in the global manufacturing environment. Only when we have met these challenges will we achieve a measure of RTM.

Messier-Dowty, a SAFRAN group company, is the world leader in the design, development, manufacture, and support of landing gear systems, in service on more than 19,500 aircraft making over 35,000 landings every day.


Szallay Honored as Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer

Todd Szallay, manufacturing technology development lead at Northrop Grumman Corporation, received an SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineers award during the 2007 SME Annual Meeting, held in Los Angeles in March. Recipients of this prestigious award are age 35 or younger, and are recognized for their exceptional accomplishments, such as technical publication, patent or technical-professional society leadership. Szallay was nominated by Lance Bryant, director of Production Engineering, Western Region of Northrop Grumman Corporation. Szallay joined Northrop Grumman as a technical intern and was asked to return after he graduated. He began as a mechanical process engineer, developing procedures, equipment and tools for processes required for airframe assembly and composite part fabrication. In his current role, he is responsible for multiple research and development projects of automated and composite systems for increased capability and cost savings. This includes technical roadmap and strategy development, integrated test plans, and cost and schedule business management. According to Bryant, "Todd has a broad range of abilities that have been successfully applied to provide tremendous value to our firm." Szallay is continuing his education at the University of Southern California, where he is pursuing a graduate degree in Systems Architecture and Engineering. He is an active member of SME Southern California Chapter No. 234.


New Job for Past President Geary

Boeing recently named SME Past President William J. "Willy" Geary director of Boeing Winnipeg—the largest components supplier to Boeing Commercial Airplanes. He will report to Pat McKenna, vice president and general manager of Boeing Fabrication. Geary was Boeing's manufacturing superintendent of Final Assembly for the Next-Generation 737 before assuming this position.

Geary was the chief engineer for 737 Program Aircraft Interiors prior to his role as superintendent. He also served as director of Production Engineering on the 737/757 and 747 programs, in addition to holding various management assignments in Engineering and Tooling within Commercial Airplanes.

Integral to the company's global supply chain, Boeing Winnipeg is a division of Boeing Canada Operations, Ltd.—a wholly owned subsidiary of the company's Commercial Airplanes business unit. Located in the Canada's Manitoba province, Boeing Winnipeg produces complex composite components for all Boeing 700-series commercial jets, such as engine thrust-reverser blocker doors, engine-strut forward-and-aft fairings, and ducts. Boeing Winnipeg also serves as a tier-one supplier partner on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the company's all-new airplane, which enters service in 2008.

Geary served as 2006 president of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and is currently active on the Society's International Board of Directors.


Collaborate 2007 Has Cross-Industry Reach

Collaborate 2007 Conference & Exhibits, coming to the Fort Worth (Texas) Convention Center, October 16–18, 2007, will be the venue where manufacturing practitioners from automotive, aerospace and defense meet to share knowledge and exchange ideas. Now in its second year, Collaborate is a unique cross-industry event that has the support of key companies and organizations, including the Texas Office of the Governor Economic Development & Tourism.

The state of Texas is a hot destination for A&D and automotive OEMs and suppliers, and these companies need highly skilled workers to fill today's high-tech manufacturing jobs. Through conference sessions, tours, exhibits, and networking at Collaborate, attendees will learn about lean, collaboration, rapid technologies, composites, advanced machining, and minimum quantity lubrication.

SME members are heavily involved in the development of Collaborate, including North Texas Chapter 51. For details and registration, visit


This article was first published in the August 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 8/1/2007

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