SpeedNews holds its 3rd annual Aerospace Manufacturing Conference

The conference drew 135 delegates from 32 US states and eight countries to hear ideas on innovation, materials, R&D and new process technologies.
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SpeedNews supported Los Angeles Aerospace and Defense contractors in Los Angeles in its 3rd Annual Aerospace Manufacturing Conference, held April 8-9, 2015, at the oceanfront Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, CA, US.

The conference drew 135 delegates from 32 U.S. states and eight countries to hear 38 speakers from industry, government and education present ideas for innovation, R&D and new process technology for simpler, lighter and less expensive aircraft manufacture and new design and engineering solutions, as well as review the advantages of doing business in California and Los Angeles County with local education of aerospace engineers.

OEMs Airbus (Toulouse, France) and Boeing (Chicago, IL, US) were reported as forecasting a gain in aircraft production and focusing on continuously improving engineering design and manufacturing—including automation—to improve weight, cost savings and individual components. Accordingly, they are asking for price concessions from their suppliers as well as their customers. OEMs are also pushing for more reliable products to reduce maintenance and aftermarket expenses—with an eye to taking aftermarket part production in-house.

Autonomy and automation

Todd Benigni, director of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC, Chicago), discussed autonomy and automation, citing an Oxford University Study, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization" (Frey & Osborne, 9/17/2013) that predicted automation will affect half of job categories within the next 30 years, replacing human dexterity with robotics. Venture capital has been spending considerable money on robotics, and U.S. patents are in the double digits for automated robotic technology. For aircraft manufacture, this is expected to achieve a remarkable set of results: improved quality, optimized supply chain, minimized aircraft downtime, reduced maintenance (by 25%), reduced lifecycle costs and improved fuel efficiency.

Enrico Scharlock, director of Aerospace & Defense Solution Experiences for Dassault Systèmes (Vélizy-Villacoublay, France), noted that for the past 10-15 years, major large-airframe OEMs have concentrated their attention on the design of new aircraft, especially composite-intensive structures. Now the focus is shifting to manufacturing with OEMs giving special attention to innovations for reducing manufacturing complexity and finding ways to improve collaboration with their supply chains.

To fast-track and improve design for manufacturability as well as production and quality control, Scharlock asked aerospace manufacturers to begin taking steps toward enabling the future factory today, encouraging them to call on 3DEXPERIENCE, Dassault Systèmes’ industry-specific “Build to Operate” software that streamlines manufacturing planning and execution.

The future factory is both digitized and real, from part concept and design through production and delivery, both in-house and throughout the supply chain. In all phases, Scharlock maintains that 3DEXPERIENCE solutions for manufacturing first prove a design in the virtual world, then put it into action in production, and once in production keep it current so that all changes are traceable and happen in real time.

“Further, the future factory will more quickly enable production and quality control for new technologies such as composite additive materials and additive manufacturing processes,” Scharlock says. Today, he says it takes about 20 years to successfully incorporate new materials into a production environment.  Dassault Systèmes wants to reduce that time significantly, to about seven years, using its 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

Another advantage Scharlock notes is the ability to better prepare for an aging work force: “As major managers retire, carrying away the knowledge in their brain, the future factory will increase control of data so knowledge can remain on site.”

Perhaps worthy of note, here is a question about automation asked by Benigni of PwC: Who is taking into account social implications and what it’s going to do to the service-oriented US economy? Delegates agreed that this needs to be addressed.

Transformation in tooling

Michael Standridge, aerospace industry specialist for Sandvik Coromant (Fair Lawn, NJ, US) reviewed the transformation of tooling and cutting equipment in the last 70 years, from the 1940s high-grade steel cutting edge to today’s high-tech carbide, coatings and advanced cutting edge materials. He highlighted today’s technology trends in cryogenic cooling, laser-assisted machining, digital processes, additive manufacturing and simulation through virtual machining and computer-aided manufacturing.

He sees a positive note in more partnership and collaboration today between the manufacturing industry and the cutting tool manufacturer than in the past. “This has made a real impact on increasing productivity. It’s vital for this trend to continue to achieve success in addressing the many challenges manufacturers are facing today and will face in the future. We need to collaborate on high-tech manufacturing, embracing new technology to improve machining performance and to compete with lower labor-cost markets.”

Tim Shumate, VP of marketing and business development for Ascent Aerospace, an AIP Aerospace company headquartered in Santa Ana, CA, US, presented on the trend toward the automated assembly of aircraft structural elements in a presentation titled Automation (r)Evolution. (See CW April 2015, Ascent tooling group ascends via innovation.) Shumate calls the automation of composites processing in the last decade an “historical benchmark in technology adoption” stimulated by the desire to use composites on the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 XWB. This drove composites automation forward, as manufacturing the large structures — notably wing and fuselage elements — for these airframes mandated advanced technology in automated fiber placement (AFP) systems. Today, he notes, the big, expensive AFPs first built for the OEMs are now being scaled down to smaller versions and finding their way down from the OEMs to tier supply chain levels.

Shumate sees assembly automation following a similar track, with technology maturation making manufacturing costs more affordable and assembly procedures more accurate for increased aircraft build rates. He expects that lighter weight and innovative drill/fastener installation systems, or end-effectors coupled with robotics, or clever integration with tooling designs will find their way from OEM to Tier 1 and eventually to Tier 2s. 

While he sees the outlook for composites automation as good, he notes that “parts typically convert to composites on new aircraft or major updates, so the opportunity is a forward, or future opportunity.” He adds that automating assembly procedures can not only benefit assembly lines for new, future programs, but also benefit older assembly lines, as well, as these can be retrofitted to incorporate assembly automation.

Shumate does not believe all aerospace manufacturing plants will go to a fully automated factory since, “in a nutshell, the build rates are too small and the aircraft are too big.”

Composites panel

Ed Hazelwood, senior content director for Aviation Week events, moderated a panel on Composites and Advanced Materials in Aerospace Manufacturing. Panelist Peter Zobrist, director of aerospace sales in North America for Constellium, discussed the strong track record of meeting the aerospace industry’s increasingly complex challenges for new materials. He called for a breakthrough in the capacity to reinvent the shape and form of future material solutions in integrated products, new materials and new architectures. Marc Gomez, global MRO segment manager of adhesive technologies in aerospace for Henkel, reviewed structural adhesives that are used extensively over an entire aircraft structure, specialized to meet specific applications. Composite bond films are used for improved composite secondary bonding over humidified precured composite substrates. Henkel also provides advanced solutions for surfacing and lightning strike protection for aircraft safety.

Government and education

Louis Stewart, deputy director of innovation and entrepreneurship in the California Governor’s office of Business and Economic Development (Sacramento), spoke about efforts to revitalize industry in California. The leading industry today is biotech and second is aerospace, with Boeing and Northrop Grumman both active in California now. Stewart outlined help available from the 42 people working in his office for economic growth—for example in site selection, environmental issues and regulations, and work force investment including apprentice and intern dollars available.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, the public policy arm of the Made-in-America movement, based in Washington, D.C., called California the largest manufacturing state, not per capita, but in size, and noted that the industry has a bigger impact in the Los Angeles area than entertainment. He stressed the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy and national security, pointing out that the backlog in U.S. aviation infrastructure has real consequences in lower GDP, sales and jobs, and that infrastructure investment creates American jobs.

Paul also cited the report, "National Network for Manufacturing Innovation: A Preliminary Design," issued by the White House’s National Science and Technology Council in January 2013. The Network consists of linked institutes for manufacturing innovation with the goal of developing advanced manufacturing technologies that will “lift all ships,” including, among others, additive manufacturing, advanced composites, digital manufacturing and design, revolutionary fibers and textiles and smart manufacturing for energy efficiency, including the change to lightweight materials for increased fuel efficiency. Paul sees increasing opportunities for reshoring to North America, especially for additive manufacturing: “It’s no longer a one-way street,” he says.

A panel moderated by Mathew Griesbach, senior VP and co-head of the Aerospace Defense Group—Global Commercial Bank—Western Region, for the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, discussed developing the next generation of aerospace and defense workers in Los Angeles County. Panelists included California State University Los Angeles, California State University Northridge, Glendale Community College, the University of California Los Angeles and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. Panelists agreed L.A. County offers a supply chain that is unmatched and the level of innovation unparalleled. Top universities and colleges are graduating more engineers in the Los Angeles area than any other area in the nation.

William Alderman, president of Alderman & Co. Consulting LLC (Danbury, CT, US), moderated a panel on aircraft design, innovation and planning in an unpredictable world. The following important points were made by the panel and by audience members:

  • New structural designs will not be coming for a good period of time.
  • The race is in engines, between LEAP and the turbofan.
  • Expect continued improvement in fuel burn due to use of better materials and better design of engines.
  • Engines have always been the driver; the higher the operating temperatures are the more efficient the aircraft can be.
  • Boeing stated after the 787 that it had “no appetite for a moon shot”—in other words, a clean sheet of paper design. An aircraft redesign is extraordinarily expensive; even a single change can have an astronomical cost.
  • New design materials in aerospace cannot keep up with the automotive industry. For example, the new BMW has a complete composite body—a real “moon shot.”
  • China is making huge investments in aerospace but is using older technology. They will be a force to reckon with but will probably impose a limited geographical impact, limited primarily to Asia.
  • Embraer and Bombardier are more competition to the US aerospace industry.
  • Market projections in commercial aviation are huge.
  • The FAA needs to work on new design specs.
  • Aircraft design is starting to take the aftermarket into account. OEMs want to improve longevity of components and reduce maintenance. This has to be considered early in the design phase.
  • OEMs also want to start making their own aftermarket products, where needed, rather than encourage an aftermarket industry.

SpeedNews (Los Angeles, Calif.)—a source for aviation news and information since 1979—is a 
member of the Aviation Week Network, a Penton Business (New York, NY, US).

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