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Facing Up to New Challenges in Aerospace

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

Aerospace is an incredibly exacting industry. Everything from design to manufacturing to maintenance must go exactly as planned to keep planes flying safely, and even when they do, mistakes can happen, leading to tragedy.

Nowhere was this more apparent than with the two recent catastrophic crashes of the Boeing 737 Max 8, one in Indonesia and one in Ethiopia. While initial indications appear to be that the problems originated in the aircraft’s sensors and flight control system, according to a report in The Seattle Times, it is a grim reminder to aerospace industry suppliers that the margin of error in making an aircraft is exceedingly small.

In this issue, Manufacturing Engineering explores how aerospace suppliers are innovating and improving the manufacturing process while continuing to provide that critical margin of safety.

Ed Sinkora’s feature, “Aerospace Machining Solves Challenges Big and Small,” on page 48, explores how traditional subtractive machining is being improved to create parts more efficiently. He notes that aerospace manufacturers have two fundamental conflicts: increasing material removal rates while meeting tighter tolerances. The need for high MRR is obvious for large structural parts, but even small Swiss-turn type parts often need tough machines and tools.

In his feature, “Beyond Niche: Alternative Machining for Aerospace Parts,” on page 58, Kip Hanson explains that alternative manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing (AM) and waterjet are making major inroads in aerospace, and the use of composites continues to grow. For example, while polymer AM still has a large role in aerospace, 3D metal printing, particularly powder bed fusion, is growing fast.

Another feature, “Aerospace Industry Turns to PVD Coatings,” on page 84, examines the growing use of PVD coating, a strong, nonhazardous, replacement for the environmentally problematic hard chrome in aerospace applications. PVD coatings offer many of the same benefits and, in some cases, are superior to hard chrome.

As for what machine tool to use when making aerospace parts, Bill Malanche of Mitsui Seiki USA
Inc. provides good advice in his “Viewpoints” column on page 104. The key takeaway is that machine tools must operate for many years the same way they did on day one—and in some cases, that means for several decades!

And last, but certainly not least, check out our coverage of SME’s AeroDef Conference, slated for April 29-May 2 in Long Beach, Calif., on page 90. We preview this highly targeted A&D show, and highlight new products you’ll see there.

AeroDef is a great place to network with other manufacturers and get new ideas. That’s more important than ever because the challenge to maintain precision, reliability, and safety in the skies is vital—as it has always been and ever will be.

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