A leading restorer of vintage aeroplanes has increased its capacity and ability to produce challenging bespoke parts by investing in multiple machining centres from Yamazaki Mazak.
Founded in 1991 and nestled in the heart of Bedfordshire, Kennet Aviation specialises in the renovation and servicing of historic aeroplanes. Over its thirty-year history, the company has restored 15 aircraft, including a Supermarine Seafire used in World War II, restoring the aircraft up to the stringent standards required by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – the UK’s aviation regulator.
Though the company has established itself as a key name in the aeroplane restoration industry, it has traditionally faced issues around the scarcity of parts available to refurbish historic planes – a common concern in this sector. Kennet Aviation now has the capability to make its own parts, but the CAA’s strict rules require Kennet follow rigorous manufacturing requirements.
This includes following original drawings, using original materials, and adopting traditional methods when making older parts. But with many drawings now lost to time, original materials no longer being made, and older era methods proving challenging to reproduce, the company was reliant on general subcontractors to machine crucial parts to order.
“It has always been difficult to source parts to restore and service old aeroplanes,” begins Tim Manna, director at Kennet Aviation. “Components can be found in barns, sheds and museums across the UK, but machining parts to order is often the best way forward. However, this brings its own challenges.
“We had long identified that the need to outsource the machining of certain components to outside contractors was a pain point for the business. Because we only require very small batches for a limited number of planes, the prices were very high. It simply was not economical to continue in this fashion, so we started to look into what we could do. Bringing the machining in-house seemed a logical solution.”
With this in mind, Kennet Aviation took the idea of manufacturing in-house and began to look into machine tool options available. Key to the company’s selection process was that any potential machine selected would be suitable to the strict requirements of aircraft restoration. As processing quality and unerring accuracy were non-negotiable, the Kennet Aviation engineering team recommended machine tool manufacturer Yamazaki Mazak as a potential option.
“Any working aircraft we restore has to qualify for a CAA permit to fly, so it was vital we chose a high-performing machining centre that could create extremely precise parts,” says Manna. “Fortunately, one of our engineers had previously worked with Mazak and could vouch for the quality of their machines. With this in mind, we decided to invest in a turning centre so we could produce parts ourselves and save money in the long run.”
Following a consultation process, Kennet Aviation invested in a Mazak QUICK TURN 250MSY CNC turning centre, which was installed in September 2020. Suited to demanding workpiece applications, the QUICK TURN’s integrated main spindle provides high accuracy and performance. Specifically, the fact the spindle can reach rotating speeds of 5,000min-¹ makes it suitable for a wide variety of materials in numerous applications, including regular and offset drilling, turning, high-speed profiling, boring, grooving and engraving.
The machine’s low thrust force also ensures high-accuracy turning even for small diameter workpieces – a vital consideration for machining parts in the tightly regulated aviation industry. Indeed, the introduction of the QUICK TURN has enabled Kennet Aviation to hugely reduce its lead times when producing bespoke aircraft components.
Preserve and protect
The success of the QUICK TURN prompted Kennet Aviation to purchase its first Mazak milling machine, a VCN-530C vertical machining centre, in December 2020 to further expand capacity. Designed for best-in-class vertical machining, the VCN-530 benefits from reduced cycle-times due to its high 42m/min feedrate. Combined with the adaptability gained through its 12,000rpm spindle speed and durable linear roller guides for X- Y- and Z-axis machining, the machine has enabled the company to produce all parts in-house.
“It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that our new Mazak machining centres has enhanced our business,” concludes Manna. “By adding in-house machining capacity through the addition of both the QUICK TURN and VCN-530C, we can restore planes faster and more cost-effectively. But this has not been the only benefit – we have been able to expand our order book machining parts for other vintage aircraft, alongside taking on added general subcontractor work.
“In fact, our success providing aircraft parts for other aircraft has grown our reputation to a point where other historic plane owners and restorers have been recommending us to source manufactured parts for their aircraft. This uptick in business means we may potentially be in the market for another machine to satisfy the growing demand. Our excellent experience with Mazak so far, and the central role their machining centres have had in Kennet Aviation’s expansion, means they would be our first port-of-call for any further investment.”
Alan Mucklow, managing director UK & Ireland Sales & Service Division at Yamazaki Mazak, concludes: “A nation’s history can be found in its machines, so it is fantastic organisations such as Kennet Aviation exist to preserve and protect our aviation heritage.
“We are thrilled to have played our part in helping the company expand its machining capacity and generate new business in its highly specialist field. We are also excited to see how they have used Mazak machinery to expand into general subcontracting and continuing to grow its reputation as a supplier of new parts for vintage aircraft.”