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The Future Flight Path of Aerospace Technology

Larry Marchand
By Larry Marchand Vice President, Sales Profile Division, United Grinding North America Inc.

In today’s aerospace industry, manufacturers often feel bound to operate a certain way because it’s a tried-and-true, validated process or because the physics of aerospace dictate certain limitations on materials, systems and designs.

Unfortunately, these manufacturers will never achieve true innovation when they continue to do the same things and hope for different results.

They will also miss out on some significant technological developments on the horizon for aerospace, many of which will involve the grinding process.

More aerospace shops are now exploring automation thanks to collaborative robotic (cobot) and machine-integrated robotic technology, such as that from United Grinding. Cobots are ideal because they allow operators to step in, inspect and verify the grinding process.

However, as measurement and cell controller technology becomes ever more sophisticated, shops may rely on humans less and adopt completely closed-loop systems.

In such systems, once a part is finished on a grinder, a robot moves it to a measurement system for inspection, then an algorithm in the cell controller determines if tolerances are within an acceptable range and whether or not to change the grinding program to adjust for any drifts in performance. These systems would also automatically enter corrections to the grinder’s offsets.

3D printing is poised to play a key role in the manufacture of aerospace components. This technology would open new avenues for complex part design and potentially enable aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to make components with both reduced weight and enhanced durability.

In addition to new processes, aerospace manufacturers continuously look at new materials that can improve parts and their performance.

Currently, shops are exploring nonmetals, such as ceramics. Ceramics deliver tremendous amounts of heat resistance, which is an important feature for turbine parts. As such non-traditional, extremely hard materials become more common in aerospace components, diamond grinding wheels will also play an even more essential role. That’s because they are the only wheel types strong enough to effectively grind these materials.

Aerospace OEMs also continue to research new designs to make aircraft even faster and more efficient.

The challenge with these innovations, however, is to overcome the delicate balance of physics that makes flight possible.

For instance, some engineers want to develop new supersonic jets with the potential to travel from New York to Tokyo in one hour, as opposed to the 14 hours the flight takes on today’s commercial airliners.

However, it is extremely difficult to design aircraft light enough yet with enough power to fly into the stratosphere and maintain such incredibly high speeds.

Other design innovations, such as electric-powered aircraft, could reduce noise and air pollution.

Unfortunately, with current battery technology, batteries powerful enough to operate a plane would add too much mass to be viable.

But if battery technology continues to advance at its current pace, electric airplanes could become a reality much sooner than one would expect.

Such a different design, with all the changes to components, would completely revolutionize the way shops think about the make-up of an aircraft, just as electric cars have such radically different part requirements from conventional vehicles.

Despite the many avenues for growth and change, innovation for the aerospace industry is likely to come at a cautious, calculated pace.

At United Grinding, we understand the conservative nature of the aerospace industry due to its needs for part and process validation to eliminate liability concerns. We will continue to develop the latest grinding technology that helps our aerospace customers make these lofty goals possible, while still keeping them at the forefront of aerospace technology in terms of process improvement.

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