In a Q&A session, Aerospace Manufacturing hears the latest news from Ascent Aerospace on the company’s large-scale additive manufacturing capabilities and HyVarC tooling solutions.
Ascent Aerospace, a provider of layup tooling for composite aerostructures is championing its HyVarC, Hybrid Invar and Composite mould tooling. The company’s HyVarC layup tooling offers a cost-effective, lightweight, short lead-time solution for prototype and development applications.
Ascent Aerospace was founded in 2012 when American Industrial Partners acquired three US aerospace manufacturers: Coast Composites, Global Tooling Systems and Odyssey Industries.
Over the next several years, Ascent continued to evolve into a vertically integrated aerospace tooling supplier by forming an engineering group, an integration group, and acquiring Brown Aerospace and Gemcor that specialise in drilling and fastening applications and systems. In 2014, Ascent expanded into Europe by acquiring Areva TA’s aerospace division and opened the UK office a year later.
Q) Do you have any latest news regarding your purchase of the Thermwood Large Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) machine?
For the Thermwood LSAM, we are continuing to prepare our Santa Ana facility for installation and are ramping up our engineering and production organisations to use this new technology. We are still on track to have the machine installed at the end of Q1 and will start to produce tooling and prototypes as soon as the LSAM is up and running.
Q) What is the breakdown of your pattern & mould making and tooling making services and solutions, i.e. how much do you do of each?
The exact breakdown of moulds, tooling, and services we provide change year by year with the market, but we are typically a relatively even split between mould tooling, auxiliary and assembly tooling, integration and automation.
Q) Give me a feel for the size, scope and lead-times of the pattern & mould work you do?
Our expertise in patterns and moulds covers every size range and use case in aerospace, from small access panels and leading edges up to the largest wing skins and barrel moulds. Through our legacy operations in California and Michigan, we’ve developed capabilities in all forms of metallic tooling, including Invar, steel, and aluminium, as well as composite tooling using a variety of tooling prepregs. Some of the largest projects we have executed include the wing skin moulds for both the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X aircraft. These tools can take up to a year to fabricate and weigh well over 40 tonnes.
Q) What are the types of performance demands placed on your company by today’s customers?
Price, quality, and on-time delivery are always crucial demands of our customers and are the foundation to having successful customer relationships. Beyond that, every company and programme values things a little differently. That is why it is so important that our key account managers, technical support teams, and programme managers get to know the customer and identify what creates value for them.
For some programmes, providing a sound technical solution and clearly explaining it to all levels involved is crucial in winning work and maintaining a good relationship. For others, it is about responsiveness and execution; get it done right and get it done quickly. At the end of the day, we want to provide the right solution at the right cost in the right amount of time, and we will work as close as we can with the customer to make it happen.
Q) Is there a particular success story you can briefly talk about?
One success story with our hybrid HyVarC tooling system involves a significant tool surface change that was a customer change request about 75% through their tool build. The tool was about to head to final machining when we got a request to add about 12” of loft surface on one side of the tool.
Now, with a traditional composite tool, this would mean scrapping the existing tool, extending the master mould, and fabricating a new facesheet and backup structure, which would have added a lot of cost and schedule.
With HyVarC, we were able to add the 12” extension with very little heat and stress. This meant heat treat was not required and the existing composite surface was still intact. We then cured an additional composite section and sent it to the machine shop with a relatively small impact on schedule and cost.
Q) What are the main focus areas of your current R&D efforts?
Across Ascent, we have several R&D projects running simultaneously, affecting different aspects of the business. This includes the development of new drilling and fastening technologies and the integration of these technologies into our automation business. For mould tooling, we are constantly working towards more efficient fabrication processes and evaluating new materials and features. Additive manufacturing is also a main area of focus for us in 2020. We expect exciting developments not only with the LSAM but also with other materials such as plastic and metallic in 3D printing applications going forward.