John Reed is retiring in April after 36 years in the computer-aided manufacture market. Until last year he was managing director of CNC simulation software specialist, CGTech. Previously Reed was the co-founder of Pathtrace (now EdgeCAM), giving him a unique perspective on the CNC machine tool market, particularly in relation to the aerospace industry.
The aerospace supply chain is under huge and relentless pressure to supply more machined parts at lower cost. Before examining how they are responding to this pressure it is worth reflecting on why this is the case. With the increased use of composites, additive manufacturing, and near net shape technology it might be thought that the demand for machined parts might be lessening. This is not so, there is an ever-increasing need for machined parts and in more and more exotic hard metals such as titanium and Inconel.
A look at the air travel market is needed to make sense of this. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 are the next generation of composite’s rich, fuel efficient aircraft. These are long haul aircraft and even if Boeing and Airbus meet their targets the build rate of these aircraft will be 14 per month by 2020. Meanwhile there has been a huge increase in the demand for short haul, single aisle aircraft driven by the growth of budget airlines and an increase in customer demand for short haul travel, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
In response to this demand, neither Boeing nor Airbus has been able to launch new Composites rich planes because the Composites manufacturing techniques used for the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are not scalable to produce composite structures at the required rate.
So, the result is the Boeing 737 Max and the Airbus A320neo for which both companies have huge order books. Both companies expect build rates to rise to 60 per month by 2020.
Both these planes have been re-engineered and fitted with new engines to make them more fuel efficient, but the construction remains conventional and this explains the huge pressure exerted by Boeing, Airbus and aero-engine makers on their supply chains for more and cheaper machined parts, and in particular, titanium, Inconel and other exotic, difficult to machine materials.
As an important CAM and simulation supplier to the aerospace industry, CGTech has worked with the primes and their supply chains to address this dramatic rise in demand for machined parts.
CGTech has partnered with machine tool suppliers to implement more powerful and accurate machine tools; workholding and automation suppliers to configure these machine tools as FMS cells to move the supply chain towards 24-hour, ‘lights out’ operation using Industry 4.0 methodology; cutting tool suppliers to introduce new high performance tools and coatings, to drive up material removal rates and prolong tool life; CAM providers as they have released innovative, new material removal strategies to improve material removal rates, particularly for roughing.
CGTech has also released its FORCE, physics-based feed rate optimisation software, which characterises difficult to machine materials by analysing the forces generated during the cutting process. Forces are measured, and data generated by test cutting in laboratory conditions and this data is used to generate optimum feed rates for CNC programs. Savings of 30% or more have been achieved even on programs that have previously been optimised using manual methods.
All these innovations are difficult to implement without disrupting production, but this is where CGTech, as the leading simulation provider in the industry can help. By providing Virtual Machine Tools (Digital Twins) and partnering with other suppliers, it is possible to experiment, run and test these technology innovations in the virtual world.
When I started with CGTech in 1994, toolpath simulation was an expensive luxury used occasionally, but as I leave the industry in 2018, simulation is essential to all aerospace manufacturing suppliers, making a huge contribution to reducing scrap material, eliminating machine collisions and keeping the chips flying to meet the insatiable demand for machined parts.