São José dos Campos, Brazil-based ELEB Equipamentos (ELEB) currently uses five MILLTURNs supplied by Austria’s complete machining specialists, WFL Millturn Technologies for the production of Embraer’s complex landing gear components.
ELEB specialises in the manufacture and development of landing gear within a production space totalling 24,000m². Hydraulic actuators, electrical and mechanical valves, actuators and the pylons are also produced by the company. Employing more than 600 workers, it has developed into one of the key suppliers in the aerospace industry and its all-embracing range of services – from customised developments of landing gear through to reliable service – has garnered the company a strong reputation in the sector.
With its well-planned structures and precise working methods, along with sophisticated improvement processes and visible strategies, ELEB’s innovative mind-set enables it to launch an average of two pivotal innovations onto the market every ten years or so.
“We focused on innovation, quality and service right from the start and ELEB has embodied and worked with these values ever since,” states ELEB’s managing director, Luís Marinho.
Mastering complex challenges
The ELEB team has taken on a wide range of challenges over the past 35 years. In the 1990s, the subsidiary of Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica produced landing gear and hydraulic assemblies for the EMB-314 series and the ERJ 145 and won its first tender for the S-92 Sikorsky.
“The next steps just fell into place, starting with the production of landing gear, plus assemblies for the E-Jet series and the development and production of a complete shipset for the new executive jets in the 2000s,” explains Reinaldo Ponte Júnior, senior manager in production technology.
ELEB has been performing ongoing work on new series since 2010. This led to the development and production of parts for the KC-390 series and for the Embraer E-Jet E2s.
The aerospace market not only requires highest quality and reliability, but also a high degree of flexibility. Production of very small batch sizes is a matter of course here as, once production is complete, products undergo numerous tests. This means that very short set-up times are essential when manufacturing landing gear to ensure valuable time isn’t wasted. So, when ELEB started to look for its first complete machining centre in 2005, set-up times, machining quality and progressive technology were the deal breakers. Since then, these requirements have grown year-on-year and only a few providers were in a position to fulfil market needs.
Different materials, such as aluminium, high-strength steels and titanium have to be machined efficiently. Deep hole drilling and deep internal machining with long, dampened boring bars is undertaken. The manufacturing of typical components requires a high cutting volume and precision which calls for a machine concept that offers extreme stability, high dynamics and short auxiliary process times.
Today’s main focus is on daily monitoring of the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). This indicator is a general measure of a machine’s added value for a company. The OEE is defined by three factors: availability, performance and quality. Checking the OEE on a daily basis gives a clear, transparent indication of the amount of added value that WFL machines provide. The average value for ELEB’s WFL machines is over 94%. The global benchmark for machines is 85%.
“This index was one of the most important factors in favour of making an investment in five complete machining centres from WFL,” notes ELEB’s process analyst, Paulo da Silva.
Maximising new potential
Before the company purchased a MILLTURN, the machining steps were very complex. In the past, parts were moved frequently, meaning that the risk of damage was high compared with today’s situation. The different clamping methods were a risk in terms of quality and set-up times were extremely long. After the first M120 MILLTURN was introduced in 2005, it became clear that these factors had all been significantly reduced or even eliminated. Therefore, finishing after hardening could be carried out in-house, enabling ELEB to broaden its horizons and develop ever bigger landing gear. The company invested in two M65 MILLTURNs in the two following years to apply the successful technology to a broader spectrum of parts. Parts for smaller aircraft are still produced on the two M65 MILLTURNs, while the M120 MILLTURN is used to manufacture cylinders, parts for the main housing and sliding housing, for example. Based on the increased capacity utilisation and ongoing innovative spirit, the company invested in another M120 MILLTURN in 2007.
“The huge advantage when machining on the MILLTURNs is that you don’t need to use different angular heads,” explains Reinaldo Ponte Júnior in regard to the technical capabilities of the complete machining centre. “The various options for mechanical processing and unrestricted access to the workpiece mean it is possible to use the best tools and perfect their machining.”
With the E-Jet E2s, Embraer entered into a new top-class segment and ELEB into a new cutting-edge phase of landing gear production.
“These machines have delivered maximum performance and enable us to lower set-up times, while increasing the quality of the parts through exact precision,” says Marinho.
In 2017, ELEB invested in another WFL machine - the M150Y MILLTURN which has a turning diameter from 1,750mm and is equipped with a slide for heaviest internal machining. This opens up almost unlimited possibilities when it comes to the manufacture of landing gear. To create sufficient space for the new machine, a new production facility was established in Taubaté in the State of São Paulo, Brazil.
The perfect companion
According to ELEB, the implementation and commissioning of each and every MILLTURN was flawless. The technical availability of the MILLTURNs has been at 98% since 2014. At that time, WFL decided to open a branch office in Brazil with local service engineers and a spare part warehouse.
“There were very few difficulties, just a few minor teething problems,” reports da Silva. “And usually these could be resolved very quickly by WFL Teleservice. If we need spare parts, the service team is available at all times. We have seen an enormous improvement here since 2014 – back then we were also the first service customer in Brazil. The flexibility of the machines especially justifies the investment. When working with new parts or carrying out trials on the complete machining centre, it impresses with very quick, precise and universal machining.”
Every two years, ELEB and Embraer holds an Industry 4.0 conference that promotes the INNOVA programme in conjunction with different partner companies. It involves a range of presentations and seminars looking at potential for improvements in both companies. After gathering ideas, they are compared, evaluated and adapted to suit by internal experts. Once the new measures have been carefully introduced, numerous improvements can be measured using the Kaizen model. In 2018, 2,371 ideas were brought to the table and, following Kaizen evaluation, 1,500 of these led to improvements. Even the degree of innovation of the machines in production was measured - all by collecting and evaluating data. These are used to improve internal processes in conjunction with WFL engineers.
“It is essential that we always have an eye on the latest technologies available on the market,” concludes Marinho of the company’s plans for imminent digitalisation. “Topics such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and data-based analysis are not alien concepts but familiar words to us. We have a team which exclusively deals with tying up the loose ends. It is important for us to work with machines that will support us as we enter the digital future.”