The association between the Aerospace & Defense (A&D) industry and precision machining dates back to the 1940s when the US Navy took help from Parsons Corporation to fast track the production of helicopter blades and aircraft bodies. John T. Parsons, a computing pioneer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Frank L. Stulen developed a milling machine with motorized axes for making these blades, programmed by the punch tape method. Since then, the A&D industry has grown to be one of the chief contributors to the global GDP, registering $874 billion in revenues and employing more than 2 million in 2020. It is projected to cross $950 billion by 2025 despite suffering a downturn in 2020-2021 due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The A&D industry is synonymous with high-precision, accuracy, high technology, and speed because aerospace and aviation parts are very critical to providing safety to people while also allowing high-precision sensors and equipment (also used in weaponry, naval ships, and military vehicles) to work with pinpointed accuracy. This makes precision extremely important in machining Aerospace & Defense components as they must work under ultra-extreme conditions. As a result, CNC machining is a widely-used manufacturing process in every sector within the A&D industry as it meets the requirements of precision and tight tolerances for critical components.
Aerospace and Defense Applications.
Modern CNC machining creates aerospace parts using lightweight metals, such as titanium and aluminum, plastics and composites for aircraft and space shuttles used in civil, commercial, and defense applications. CNC machining is used to manufacture countless aerospace parts, so it is impossible to list them here. However, some of the major parts that can be machined include transmissions, hydraulic lift parts, motion controls, engine housing, fuel bodies, landing gear parts, electrical parts, actuator parts, oxygen generation systems, and suspension system parts. CNC machined parts in spacecraft enable the survival of life in space for long-duration, ranging from weeks to years. Its' other applications in the defense sector include the development of components for advanced weapon systems, communication systems, detection systems and radar technology, naval ships, and military vehicles.
Moreover, its use is not limited to production alone, rather it also helps in research and development in the A&D industry. The rapid prototyping capability of CNC machining allows Aerospace and Defense manufacturers and OEMs to create new component prototypes, experiment with them, and modify them with the help of 3D computer-aided design models and computer instructions.
Modern CNC machining processes involve the use of three-axis, five-axis, and even machines with seven, nine, and twelve axes. Generally, the production of Aerospace and Defense parts involves five-axis machines. Five-axis machines are capable of manipulating and working on a workpiece in more ways possible than those with lesser axes, such that they can create A&D components with complex geometries. For example, bulkhead, landing gears, and fuselage sections of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Orion spacecraft.
Benefits of CNC machining for the A&D Industry.
CNC machines can work far faster than human operators due to computer-enabled automatic machining operations. This is particularly useful for A&D manufacturers and OEMs when manufacturing large volumes of complex components.
A&D components have to comply with extremely tight tolerance requirements and standards, such as the AS9100 standard, thus limiting the error margins in components since malfunction of any critical parts of an aircraft or spacecraft can have disastrous results. CNC machined parts have very high accuracy and precision, as they are produced through highly automated and autonomous production processes.
Aerospace manufacturing requires materials that are strong, lightweight, and resistant to wear and tear. CNC machining offers compatibility with various materials, including metals, engineering plastics, and composites for fabricating components.
CNC machining allows the replication of the same A&D parts in large quantities and with the same level of quality. This is useful when an A&D manufacturer needs to produce large volumes of a single part for a particular aircraft or vehicle model.
CNC machining is very cost-effective due to low labor requirements, larger production volumes, and low material wastes due to the absence of machining errors due to the high-precision manufacturing process.
Today's Industry 4.0-enabled CNC machines used in the A&D industry are equipped with artificial intelligence and machine learning which help the machines become more intelligent. These smart machines can learn skills autonomously and adapt in real-time to changing instructions and uncertain operational conditions. Further advancements in CNC machines would likely bring more integration among the machines and production processes enabled through information and communication technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things. These evolving technologies would likely allow CNC machines to become more autonomous, requiring no or less human inputs in their operations. These are precisely the kind of capabilities that the A&D industry would require to produce high-precision parts and achieve stringent production goals in the future.
CNC machining in the Aerospace and Defense industry requires the right platforms to optimize machining processes. Lambda Function's Intelligent Control System (ICS) software aims to enable autonomous manufacturing by providing intelligence to CNC machines, thereby helping machine shops optimize their machine shop processes and reduce the risk of the burgeoning technical skills shortage. Our ICS platform eliminates the need for constant supervision of CNC machines and empowers machinists with reliable intelligence.
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