Mike Richardson talks to Gardner Aerospace Basildon to discover how it uses Delcam’s computer-aided manufacturing software products to help ensure a rapid turnaround of its customers’ machined parts.
Speed is of the essence in the fast paced, competitive world of aerospace manufacturing, particularly when it comes to any maintenance and repair work relating to an aircraft being stuck on the ground waiting for an urgent replacement part to be manufactured. In this instance, time quite literally means money, as every airline operator needs its aircraft to be up in the air and earning them money. Speed is also of the essence when new aircraft are in the development phase.
To help ensure that this fast turnaround of items goes like clockwork, Gardner Aerospace’s Basildon facility is very focused on making sure it provides on-time delivery of finished machined components back to the aircraft for installation. This entails the machining, fabricating, assembly and repair of precision parts, kits and subassemblies in a myriad of aerospace metals for the aerostructures, wings and engines for many ongoing and new aircraft programmes.
“I started using Delcam’s products from the day I began working at Gardner,” begins Gardner Aerospace Basildon’s engineering manager, Andy Cook. “I needed to very quickly hit the ground running with the types of difficult-to-machine components Gardner was increasingly being asked to supply and within a week I was on a training course at Delcam’s Birmingham headquarters.
“At that time, Gardner was looking for a CAM software product solution that could enable it to machine from 3D models as opposed to traditional 2D drawings. Although we do use machine tool software packages for simple 2D machining, whenever we have a 3D model, we prefer to use Delcam’s software because it’s the most suitable for our applications.”
It’s good at what it does
Cook says the key reasons Gardner Aerospace selected Delcam’s PowerMILL and PowerSHAPE products over similar competitor offerings was for its 3D machining capabilities, ease of use and compatibility in terms of all the features the company needed.
“Delcam’s software has saved us time with the various revision improvements and upgrades it has provided to us throughout our working relationship,” Cook continues. “I’ve witnessed many product revisions and I’ve also visited Delcam to liaise with their engineers and help them tailor their 5-axis machining techniques to better serve our requirements. I’ve always enjoyed a good rapport with the software engineers and they are always willing to listen to our ideas.
“In the past, we’ve needed support for certain machining techniques on difficult-to-machine items, which has meant reinforcing our relationship with Delcam to discuss various suggestions and find solutions to suit our needs. Delcam’s products really have progressed year on year, and we’ve benefited from many of the improvements it has introduced over the years.”
Cook goes onto add that one of Delcam’s key strengths compared to its competitors is its speed of actually creating usable and efficient program toolpaths to improve the machine tool’s productivity.
“When we run smaller batches, we can quickly generate a set of toolpaths via our tried and trusted in-house methods to get a one- or two-off onto the machining centre in an economical way - rather than look at optimising many different toolpaths to get the ‘perfect’ product program, which we would normally do when we’re running a bigger batch,” he maintains. “Delcam employs some very efficient machining strategies that allow us to finish machine both steep and shallow faces. Through just a short number of steps, we can machine up to 90% of the part, which just means selecting any areas where we may still be left with a problem.
“Delcam affords us the speed and reliability of getting a toolpath onto the machine and perform an optimised manufacturing programme in a short space of time to make a short batch very quickly and easily. This is probably Delcam’s biggest strength. In addition, we use CGTech’s Vericut machining software to check and verify the toolpaths for gouges and any excess so that when we put the part onto the machining centre, we know it’s going to come off correct as per the 3D model. Delcam’s toolpath calculations automatically optimise the best routes and it’s not often that we have to revisit any areas after we’ve programmed their software to calculate it.”
The digital thread
It’s Cook’s belief that the industry is migrating from the traditional method of relying on a 2D drawing and using a 3D model as a support, to a point now where companies begin working with the 3D model and use the 2D drawing to find any precise drawing tolerances that aren’t already embedded in the 3D model.
“This is undoubtedly the next stage of development in the aerospace industry and some companies are already embedding 2D drawing tolerances into the 3D model to eradicate the reliance on paper drawings,” Cook concludes. “Every part we make for an aircraft is modelled and very few parts are made from a 2D machine drawing these days. We originally used 2D drawings and built our own 3D models, whereas now, even the most simple sheetmetal bracket is initially prepared as a model, which means we no longer need to model it ourselves in-house so it saves lots of time.”
For many years Delcam has been at the forefront in the development of high speed machining strategies that employ a combination of techniques to ensure rapid delivery of high quality machined components. In addition, developments in cutting tool technology have led to a revolution in the way CNC programmers now tackle jobs.
“Aircraft OEMs increasingly want faster deliveries of tight tolerance, high quality parts,” concludes Delcam’s marketing manager, Peter Dickin (right). “This is the challenge that companies like Gardner Aerospace face, so Delcam has to continually find ways to help them satisfy these demands. However, perhaps one of the less well-known success stories is just how much faster companies can now cut metal than they could some years ago. Talking to our customers, the speeds and feeds they use now would have been unthinkable five years ago. This is mainly down to new developments in cutting tools and the latest CAM software strategies that are employed to work alongside them.”