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Analysis

Strict Tolerance Demand Advanced Equipment

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 14:21

The high-quality demands of the aerospace sector have put pressure on both suppliers and manufacturers of manufacturing and machining equipment. However, with the introduction of Industry 4.0 practices, meeting even more stringent standards is possible.

The average width of a human hair is only 50μm, the silk thread of a spider web is between 3-8μm and bacteria have an average length of 1-10μm. Component manufacturing in the aerospace industry is so extremely precise that it must address tolerances narrower than 1μm. Complying with these dimensional standards is what gives aerospace companies like Bombardier the confidence to guarantee 99 percent reliability of its aircraft. Machining plays a key role in delivering complete parts that meet these strict standards.

To understand how machining operations participate in the aerospace production chain, it is necessary to first have a clear idea of what machining is. Manufacturing is constantly evolving as new materials come into play and components demand engineering of more complex geometries. Today, processes are divided between additive and subtractive manufacturing. The former refers to all processes that deliver a component through controlled material addition and is more extensively covered in chapter four, Indirect Suppliers. The latter, also known as machining, includes all activities that include material removal; the most common are turning, milling and drilling 

Turning is the process in which a rotary cylinder is shaped by a fixed tool that moves linearly over a component while it spins. Milling involves the use of a rotating tool that moves linearly over a fixed workpiece. Finally, drilling refers to the perforation of a piece with the use of a rotary spindle. Depending on the material used and the desired final geometry, calculations must be made to determine the cutting speed, or feed, and the dimensions of the tool required.

Although these processes can be done manually, the need for productivity and reliability led to automation and the now commonly used computer numerical control (CNC) equipment. With computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software, a component must only be outlined digitally for the equipment to translate all lines and spaces into cutting paths that result in the final piece. According to the material specified and the tools available in the manufacturing cell, the software does all the necessary calculations to determine all rotary and linear speeds for both the tool and the component. The software then transforms the production steps into commands for the CNC equipment to interpret and perform. If necessary, the equipment can automatically change tools stored in the manufacturing cell’s magazine.

The introduction of automation technology can naturally lead to greater productivity and faster production. However, that does not necessarily mean components will automatically maintain the same quality. According to Marcos Sepúlveda, Director General Mexico and Latin America of machining chuck manufacturer company SCHUNK Intec, equipment has to be optimized according to the pressing needs of the industry. “We had to evolve to offer greater cutting speeds and machining conditions had to become more efficient,” he says. “As speed increases, manufacturing tolerances are narrower. This forces companies to be more demanding when sourcing their tools.”

Just as the aerospace sector has incorporated new standards and innovated in its technology, the machining sector has made R&D a priority to comply with stringent manufacturing requirements. “The machining industry has slimmed down from transfer machines measuring 15-20m to units between 3-4m that can be easily accommodated at a maker’s facility,” says Clemente Hernández, General Manager of chuck manufacturer SMW Autoblok. “This has made tooling and part machining much more flexible.” The use of alternative materials such as aluminum and titanium has also forced the industry to optimize its processes and deliver precise and durable tooling components that can perform at the necessary speed and tolerance.

INNOVATING BEYOND HARDWARE

Hardware, however, is not the only area where machining companies are looking to innovate. The growing trends of Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory are gradually  permeating manufacturing processes, including machining and how it can deliver better results. As with any other automated equipment, CNC manufacturing cells can deliver enormous amounts of data regarding the manufacturing process and its efficiency. The data generated is useless, however, unless it can be employed to further optimize the entire production floor.

By connecting the advantages of CNC production with the principles of connectivity and data analysis inherent in Industry 4.0, companies can detect and prevent unscheduled downtime, thus reducing costs. At the same time, maintenance operations can be scheduled around production deadlines without affecting the company’s overall output. According to PwC’s Industry 4.0: Building the Digital Enterprise research of 2016, 50 percent of 2,000 executives surveyed in 26 countries see data and analytics as a priority during the decision-making process. Furthermore, the study shows an expected cost reduction of US$9 billion or 3.7 percent by 2020 in the aerospace, defense and security industries thanks to the implementation of Industry 4.0 solutions. “The industry has reacted to client needs to make their processes more efficient,” says Sepúlveda. “Industry 4.0 makes companies work more closely with their clients to sell solutions rather than specific products.”

With a growing backlog in aircraft production – 5,744 units only at Boeing – there is a definite opportunity for more suppliers to participate in the aerospace production chain. As a result, machining companies will have a chance to grow their participation in the market. Industry and market research company Sandler Research expects the machining center market to represent over US$5 billion by 2020 with a compound annual-growth rate (CAGR) of 5.68 percent between 2016 and 2020. Market research company Technavio, on the other hand, has a more promising outlook for the machining industry. The company expects a CAGR of 6 percent between 2016 and 2020 with the Americas representing 28 percent of the global machining market. Furthermore, according to its most recent study, the automotive, aerospace and metal fabrication sectors will be among the main drivers for the industry’s growth.

CNC equipment will be essential in this development but not all companies are ready to embrace advanced machining and automation equipment. PwC’s research shows than only 33 percent of the executives surveyed are ready to embrace Industry 4.0 technology. Although that number is expected to reach 72 percent by 2020, in Mexico there is a definite lag in the implementation of advanced technology. “SMEs are practically unaware of the advantages that technology advances can offer and they do not have the necessary resources to invest in advanced manufacturing equipment,” says Manuel Nieblas, Partner and Manufacturing Industry Leader at Deloitte Mexico. “The situation worsens when we consider there are no real incentives from the government to incorporate advanced technologies at national suppliers.”

There is a way for companies to meet their automation goals, though. Within the robotics sector, it is a common practice for smaller companies to acquire used equipment from larger suppliers. These machines may not have the latest software in the industry but they help SMEs bridge the technological gap with their potential clients.

The machining sector offers a similar alternative that allows companies to integrate new technology without having to wait for larger companies to discard their equipment. Refurbishing companies like SIMSA have specialized in retrofitting machining equipment to incorporate CNC controls and increase companies’ productivity. “A Mexico- based company that can refurbish grinding, balancing and polishing equipment to the correct machining standards is invaluable and we expect this business to double our company’s growth rate, or better,” says Ricardo Martínez, President of SIMSA, adding that equipment usually had to be sent to the US, Japan or Europe to be renovated, leading to great interest from companies looking for a local partner. “Two years after opening the plant, we reached full capacity and are already investigating an expansion.”

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