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HAAS the natural choice for AeroCision

HAAS the natural choice for AeroCision

Added to MTDCNC by HAAS Automation on 06 May 2014

Parts manufacturers willing to invest in the right technology, people, and processes, can find themselves working for some of the biggest and best-known names in the sector. Take Chester, Connecticut-based AeroCision, for example.

Founded 50 years ago, AeroCision’s original owners relied mostly on local business for their livelihoods. It’s unlikely, back in those relatively dark ages of manufacturing technology, that they could have imagined that, one day, they’d be making parts for the latest passenger jet engines, let alone for a customer more than 3000 miles away.

'There are no borders any more,' says AeroCision CEO Andrew Gibson. 'When my business partner and I took over this company a few years back, the big names in the aerospace sector were rationalizing their supplier lists.' To have a chance of being on a shortlist meant investing heavily in quality control, new product introduction (NPI) processes, and the best-available machining technology. 'It didn’t matter to the customer that we are here in Connecticut,' adds Mr. Gibson. 'It only mattered that we could achieve the precision, quality, and efficiencies that they were demanding.'

AeroCision specialises in turned 'ring' parts for turbofan engines; typically, parts between 150 mm and 750 mm. According to Operations Manager Glen Fournier, orders for the larger components are becoming more common, simply because engines are getting bigger.

'We’re making turned and milled parts for the hot areas of a high-bypass aero engine built by a very well-known company,' Mr. Fournier explains. 'These are the engines being used to power the biggest new planes, such as the Boeing 787.'

AeroCision’s workshop is spotless, as you’d expect for a company with aerospace standards. Toward the back of the current floor space is 15,000 square feet available for expansion, but in the foreground are two busy, Haas-populated manufacturing cells, one with CNC vertical machining centres and the other with CNC lathes.

'Two of the most important things for us and our customers,' says Mr. Fournier, 'are on-time delivery and zero defects. There are strictly applied penalties for not delivering on time, even if we deliver too early. So the biggest challenges for me are scheduling, controlling, and reducing set-up and cycle times. Speeds and feeds are critical, because there’s a lot of material removal. Our runs are 20 to 25 pieces, so we need to be quick when we’re changing setups. The larger parts necessitate well-designed set-up and shuttle plates, and our latest Haas machines have tool setters. We’re also moving toward SPC [statistical process control], and certifying our operators as inspectors, which will help us enormously. The SPC will allow us to gather the data, and we’ll be able to chart out trends live on the shop-floor screens. On-machine probing will allow us to measure the parts and send those measurements to our database, so the operators will be able to move the parts through the shop that much more efficiently.'

AeroCision has a continuous, live link to its UK customer, whose system downloads a schedule to Chester every Monday morning, where it is imported into the company’s ERP system. People, machines, and other resources can be scheduled for the week.

'Our matrix is 98% on-time delivery,' says Mr. Fournier. 'But I’m happy to say, we have never delivered late, and we have never delivered a part that was out of control.'

During the development phase of one particular complex ring-part, Mr. Fournier managed to have the process resolved and the first-off component made well ahead of schedule. 'We took on the job in October, and it was supposed to be delivered in April of the following year,' he says. 'But we had the first finished part just before Christmas. We had all four Haas mills running, but needed more turning capacity, so we bought the ST-30s. We took a photograph of the guys on the shop floor holding the part, and we sent it to the customer with the message, ‘Happy Christmas!’ They were very pleased.'

CEO Mr. Gibson believes that choosing the right CNC machine tools was critical in being able to exceed customer expectations, and will be just as important for the future success of the company.

'Many of the large aerospace companies are sourcing a lot of parts from lower-cost regions. We have to focus on making higher-value, more-complex parts and assemblies, and spend our resources making the processes more efficient,' Mr. Gibson says. There was a time when a relatively small company like AeroCision might have struggled to buy CNC machine tools with sufficiently high precision, but that’s not the case anymore. The machines are available to almost everyone. Using them well is the key. 'Our parts are complex and difficult to make, and tolerances are very tight, but it’s having a robust and reliable process that means we can still be strong and competitive in Connecticut.'

Guy Nigro is the company’s Lathe Cell Supervisor. 'I think the Haas ST lathes are very good machines,' he says. 'We had the SL lathes for five years, and in all that time we didn’t have any problems. They were good, rigid, reliable machines, but our new STs are better. They’re more rigid, which means we can easily achieve tolerances on materials such as Inconel®. They’re also easy to program, either manually or from our programming room, and they’re straightforward to operate.'

When OEMs rationalize their supplier bases, there’s usually only a brief and single opportunity for a company to be included. Once on board, though . . .

'Our customers are moving some of their production and assembly to countries like India,' says Mr. Gibson, 'where they will build for the local market. We hope to move with them, setting up new, adjacent facilities so we can deliver parts quickly, and to the same high standards they expect from this plant. We want to use Haas CNC machines wherever we are in the world.'

The aerospace industry is pushing its suppliers more than ever to come up with new technology, processes, and quality control – just like in the early years of NC. These days, however, manufacturing technology may actually be setting the pace on some fronts, as CNC machine tools in particular become more affordable and precise. Expect to see engine and aircraft development getting faster and more cost-efficient, and precision part suppliers like AeroCision getting a bigger piece of the action.


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