The in-service commercial airline fleet is forecast to grow from nearly 25,000 in early 2017 to over 35,000 by 2027, according to research firm Oliver Wyman. This is good news for the manufacturing industry. But, considering that there is an almost 10-year backlog at current production rates, it is also a challenge.
Precision requirements within the aerospace industry have always been stringent. But the increasing use of advanced lightweight materials in airframes and engine components can impact traditional manufacturing knowledge and potentially require new methodologies. Additionally, to further improve performance efficiency, engines are becoming increasingly complex, which requires more sophisticated methods of measurement and inspection to ensure tolerances are met.
The aerospace industry has commonly led the field with investment in leading-edge inspection and test cells to ensure the integrity of components. But the increasing volume demands require a more aggressive quality strategy. Even the most advanced machine tools staffed by seasoned craftsmen can find it difficult to correctly identify problems that lead to reduced productivity or poor quality.
The solution to both productivity and quality can be found in real-time machine monitoring, capable of detecting tooling and process issues prior to equipment failure or scrapped components. Sensors integrated in the machine components can provide continuous monitoring of metalworking processes by collecting data on operating conditions like static and dynamic force, vibration, power, and temperature. From this data, the systems learn the normal limits of the process. The control unit then observes the signals of each cycle and compares it with the stored curve; if the signal moves outside of the envelope curve, the machine shuts down or a part is sorted out. This lets you experiment and optimize processes as both visibility and safeguards are built into the system.
One Marposs customer was tasked with improving a gear hobbing operation where the hob cutters had historically been run to a set number of passes as indicated by the tool builder specification. The customer wanted to improve detection of worn tools, reduce scrap resulting from chip weld, and improve tool life.
Actions were taken to address these issues, including changes in cutting speeds and feeds, implementation of fixed-position air blow-off knives, increased changeover of the hob cutter, and a modification to two-pass cutting. However, none of these achieved the desired objectives, so an integrated monitoring system was implemented.
This system enables tool wear to be identified based upon actual power draw instead of pre-determined specs. Visibility into the data enabled tools to be run longer, resulting in a 64% tool life improvement, as well as optimizing cycle times. No one wants to scrap parts or waste tooling, but the ability to avert these issues becomes paramount when dealing with the costs associated with aerospace materials, where the loss of one boring bar can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and of course hurt productivity.
Although increased productivity, lower costs and higher quality are obvious benefits of real-time monitoring, there are other compelling reasons to implement this strategy. Monitoring solutions involve data capturing, data processing and visualization—all of which are extremely important. First, the data documentation capability fulfills traceability requirements for manufacturers in the aerospace industry. Second, this data supports the move toward the Industrial Internet of Things, where there will be an ongoing exchange of information via autonomous intelligent systems, delivering a real-time image of current production processes. This data is gathered from sensors, like those used in these monitoring solutions, delivering information from devices and machines to the Internet, monitoring their condition, improving the performance of a production line and creating time and cost savings.
In short, real-time monitoring of production processes provides immediate benefits and lays the foundation for the future. It is critical in the quest to optimize performance, improve quality and cut costs. Aerospace manufacturers who streamline their machining processes by investing in a sophisticated monitoring strategy will be better positioned to meet the demands of this industry today while preparing for tomorrow’s Industry 4.0.