Safran Landing Systems is the world’s largest manufacturer of aircraft landing systems. At its plant in Mirabel, Quebec, just north of Montreal, the company builds landing gear for Airbus and Boeing commercial airliners—the mainstays of the global aviation industry. Every day, Safran’s products get hundreds of commercial airline flights into the air and bring them safely to their destinations.
The aerospace sector is a technically demanding field, and as the world’s largest supplier of landing gear, Safran has proven that it can meet whatever challenge its customers present. One of the ways it does that is by using advanced technology solutions to support manufacturing and data gathering. The company has an entire department dedicated to Industry 4.0, which works to improve how the company collects and uses the massive amounts of data generated during manufacturing. The company also spends about 7 percent of its revenue on R&D.
To ensure that every assembly that leaves its plant meets stringent customer requirements, Safran has been using measuring equipment from Blum-Novotest Inc., Erlanger, Ky., for years. The company first used Blum lasers to measure and check tools, monitoring length, radius, diameter and other parameters to prevent crashes and track tool wear. The company has also relied on the Blum TC63 CNC touch probe to enhance the precision of workpiece measurement for several years. More recently, Safran deployed Blum’s TC64-RG roughness gauge to monitor surface finish—a critical parameter in the highly engineered systems it manufactures.
Safran manufactures the main component of the landing gear in Mirabel. Overseeing the manufacturing process is NC Coordinator Shawn Page. “It’s a machining-intensive process, and our customers are very demanding when it comes to precision,” said Page, describing their process for building the landing gear components. “Surface finish is critical.”
A couple of years ago, Safran expanded the Mirabel plant to handle massive new landing gear contracts from Airbus and Boeing. Growth is good—but as any business owner will tell you, it can also be a big challenge. In addition to expanding its plant, Safran needed to ramp up capacity quickly while maintaining the highest standards of accuracy and repeatability by introducing more automation into its parts inspection process.
The primary component of each landing gear system starts as a massive forging, sometimes weighing up to eight tons. Each forging is mounted on a CNC machining center that uses heavy cutters to rough-in the shape. This imparts a rough finish that brings the workpiece close enough to final configuration so only a thin layer of metal needs to be removed to achieve final finish. A second pass removes that layer, bringing the workpiece to the final finish. The Blum TC64-RG roughness gauge is then used to conduct a detailed surface inspection of the finished part. Irregularities detected at this stage will be minor enough that they can be removed by a final polishing.
Safran needed to increase automation to handle increased workload, reduce manual processes and maintain and improve its high standards of quality control. Surface finish inspection was one area where Page needed to cut time from the process, improve accuracy and increase the number of workpiece surfaces under inspection—all with fewer operators. He also wanted to increase the amount of data gathered during production and have the ability to feed that data back into the production process.
Because surface inspection took place with the finished part still mounted on the machining center, the process cut into the machine’s cycle time, in addition to increasing operator time. There were 10 areas on each part that needed to be inspected. The process took around 45 minutes. Because measurement accuracy depended on the operator placing the handheld measuring device correctly, the possibility of human error had to be considered. The time required also meant Page was forced to inspect a limited number of surfaces.
When Jamie King, Canadian regional manager for Blum-Novotest, introduced the TC64-RG roughness gauge to Page and his team, they were intrigued by its potential to optimize their surface inspection process. “It had the right potential for us,” said Page, “and we wanted to look into it in more detail.” After several on-site demonstrations at Safran’s Mirabel plant, King arranged a visit for Page to tour Blum’s headquarters in Ravensburg, Germany, to get a closer look. After witnessing the possibilities of the roughness gauge firsthand, the decision to move forward was easy.
According to the company, Blum always works closely with its customers to tailor solutions to their needs. King took an active role as a resource for Safran throughout implementation of the TC64-RG. The process included iterative development of custom software to integrate the parts measurement process with Safran’s back-end IT systems. With special funding from its parent company, The Safran Group, to develop the system, Page and his team worked closely with Blum to develop the solution. Said King, “It was very much a partnership to get where we are today.”
Page reported that, with the help of the TC64-RG roughness gauge, he hopes to eliminate the possibility of human error in the measuring process. He anticipates the roughness gauge will also reduce inspection time. Page explained that he will utilize any time savings by doing an even more robust parts check, inspecting more surfaces than was possible before. It will now be possible to check every tool at the beginning and end of each machining pass so wear and deviation can be spotted and corrected well before serious problems develop. Page plans to migrate this solution to other machines and processes at Safran.