The term aerospace often conjures images of rocket ships, space shuttles and the latest technology that NASA has to serve up. From a machinist’s standpoint, we think of complex jet engine impellers and marvel at the precision and fluidity demonstrated in the 5-axis milling of these aerospace parts. Between the government and commercial sectors, the aerospace industry is huge … and the range of machined parts diverse . This represents a growing opportunity for manufacturers. In fact, according to Boeing’s “Current Market Outlook” the commercial aircraft segment is forecasted to grow at twice the projected growth rate of the global economy over the next two decades.¹
Many DATRON customers have added our high-speed machining technology to their shop floor in order to respond to this growing demand for milling aerospace parts. While many of their stories are proprietary in nature, we’re fortunate enough to be able to share a few of them.
Let’s start with an example less obvious and perhaps less “sexy” than milling impellers – how about milling airplane seats? We can share one commercial application in Europe and a military application in the United States.
DATRON customer, Thompson Aero Seating in Northern Ireland is one of the leading suppliers of seating systems for the aviation industry and their three lines of seating are used primarily in the business class of commercial airlines. They came to DATRON seeking to machine aluminum support rails for seat frames, as well as a goal of increasing production capacity for a backing plate and reducing cycle time. The company purchased a DATRON M10 Pro for this aerospace milling application which ultimately reduced cycle time from 61 minutes to 32 minutes or nearly 100%. Additionally, due to the superior surface quality achieved when machining aluminum with the M10 Pro, they were able to eliminate a secondary operation required to de-burr or polish the parts.
On this side of the pond, another Thompson, Thompson Aerospace, came to DATRON with a need to machine side panels for the ejector seats in F18 fighter jets. What appealed to them about DATRON machines was the large working area that could accommodate the aluminum sheet material required to manufacture their sizable aerospace component. Plus a DATRON vacuum table, known as the Quadramate, could be integrated for 24” x 36” of workholding that would reduce set up time.
The next example comes from DATRON customer, Aero-Tec Industries, based in Seminole, OK, who manufacture a wide variety of internally illuminated control panels for usage in fixed wing, rotary wing and simulator applications. A large percentage of these are manufactured to be compatible with night vision goggles. Special lamp filtration and paints are required for this. The initial part that they needed to produce was milled from military grade cast acrylic. This customer too was drawn to DATRON because of the large work envelope and vacuum table workholding. Aero-Tec President, Charles Harbert said, I was interested to see how DATRON’s high speed technology and integrated vacuum table could impact our efficiency and the overall quality of our entire product line.”
After batches of these control panels are machined from acrylic sheets, they populated with electronics and go through a painting process — black over white. After paint, lettering is applied with a diode-pumped laser system that ablates the black paint to expose the white underneath. The DATRON machining center was used to fabricate the registration fixture required for the laser system. Here is a series of photos to illustrate the production phases.
Our final example of machining aerospace parts is an instrument panel manufactured by Flight Safety International for use in flight simulators used to train pilots. Flight Safety is the world’s leading aviation training company and runs 40 learning centers and training locations worldwide. The panel shown below was machined on a DATRON high speed machining center with integrated vacuum table workholding and then painted. This part is representative of many Flight Safety parts that are milled in varying shapes and sizes to produce all of the cockpit instrumentation that populates the dash of their flight simulators.