The demanding aircraft industry constantly challenges aerospace manufacturers to look for ways to improve processes, reduce downtime and ultimately increase productivity. Inherent in engine component designs is a high degree of quality and tight tolerances. The work materials – heat resistant super alloys (HRSAs) – have poor machinability, adding to the difficulty in machining these parts.

As a cutting tool manufacturer, NTK develops innovative high-quality products to ensure there is no effect on the integrity or surface finish of the part while enabling higher productivity.

Blisk engine components, where the hub and blades are machined from a solid piece of HRSA material (Inconel 718) are complex machining applications requiring tools that are efficient, reliable, and produce parts that meet stringent manufacturing specifications. Now imagine machining these parts at cutting speeds normally reserved for aluminum. This is a reality with our durable solid ceramic end mill, made of SX9 grade SiAlON, which typically runs at speeds of 2,000sfm to 3,000sfm (with a minimal speed of 1,000sfm). The intricate flute edge design withstands the extreme heat and pressure generated when machining at high speeds. A customer successfully completed a roughing and semi-finishing pass at 2,000sfm and 0.0012ipt with superior results, drastically reducing the operation time they were seeing with the original tool.

A current customer recorded an amazing 50 minutes of tool life by effectively programming tool paths to use the face of the 12mm end mill for areas of the operation then tilting the end mill to strategically machine with the edge of the ceramic end mill. This is a dramatic result that showcases the capabilities of NTK’s Workhorse SiAlON ceramics. Rough turning operations on the hub area of these Inconel 718 parts is where RPGX style inserts in SX9 easily machine through the layer of scale at 900sfm to 1,100sfm with higher feed rates and heavier depths of cut than whisker grades can handle.

To develop a cutting tool material that will allow manufacturers to keep up with production demands, NTK has made a true contribution with the success of BIDEMICS. Round JX1 inserts perform the semi-finishing/finishing profile passes on the area of the blisk profile with cutting speeds of 1,350sfm. BIDEMICS, JX1, or JX3, are effectively applied to any grooving operation using a durable VGW style insert in a stable and rigid holder design which allows the exceptional speeds averaging 1,200sfm and 0.003" feed rates. The resulting machined surface finish is far superior to that achieved with any whisker, SiAlON, or carbide. NTK’s SiAlON’s and BIDEMICS insert materials increase machining efficiency without affecting or influencing the quality of the part. Manufacturers truly see the potential with the reductions in production time.

Modern digital design and manufacturing, along with material science breakthroughs, have enabled an extensive array of new products and machines. New technologies developed a decade ago are now beginning to find their way into mainstream manufacturing, with the most significant of these being additive manufacturing (AM) and the introduction of new composite materials. In many cases these new methods and materials cause manufacturers to scratch their collective heads when it comes to machining these parts.

When it comes to holding parts for machining, the methods to do so have changed little since the dawn of manufacturing. Squeezing the part is the norm, and for robust parts this can work well in most cases. However, when it comes to holding thin-wall parts or parts made from ceramic and laminate materials with wild contours, multiple shortcomings arise from traditional-type workholding. Squeezing a thin-walled part or a part made from ceramic or laminate can lead to scrap due to part distortion or chipping of the ceramic or laminate.

Often when parts are designed, little thought is given as to how the parts will be held in place while machining is being done on them, let alone how the part can be loaded into a machine tool using automation.

Blue Photon’s workholding system solves this problem by freeing up the fixture designer to design tools with greater design flexibility by eliminating the need to oppose clamping pressure on the part in order to prevent distortion. By not having force-opposing devices, the machine tool gains greater access to the part, which in many cases can eliminate operations and allow for better coolant flow to the cutting area.

In today’s manufacturing environment, speed, efficiency, and the ability to make a correct part every time are critical and key ingredients to being successful. These factors have always played a part in the “bottom line;” however, in an era when machines are running near capacity and when parts change frequently, it is critical to be able to respond quickly and to turn parts around fast. Customers are always demanding quicker delivery times and lower costs. This can be difficult if a custom fixture needs to be built. Blue Photon will assist shops by lowering their fixture costs and simplifying fixture design allowing for a quicker fixture build. Automation of hard-to-hold parts can be easily accomplished by use of the Blue Photon workholding systems.

Blue Photon manufactures a patented photo-activated adhesive workholding system in the U.S. It also offers fixture design and engineering for milling, turning, grinding, EDM, laser, inspection, and assembly applications, including aerospace, additive, robotics, and medical machining.

Bombardier CRJ certified for higher maintenance intervals; FlexArm breaks ground on $4 million facility.

Alaska Native Corp. subsidiary Tyonek Global Services LLC (TGS), has won a $21 million U.S. Navy contract for depot level maintenance (DLM) at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE). Tyonek will employ more than 340 skilled artisans to repair and maintain aircraft, aircraft engines, and associated components and materials at several Navy’s maintenance depots. Contract work includes the modernization, conversion, in-service repairs, disassembly, and other DLM services for many types of U.S. Navy aircraft.

TGS will provide services at FRCSE aboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville and NAS Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida; Naval Station (NS) Mayport, Florida; and Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic (FRCMA) aboard NAS Oceana, Virginia, and NS Norfolk, Virginia.

Tyonek is also the current prime contractor at the FRCMA in Patuxent River, Maryland, and the managing partner of a joint venture, Aircraft Readiness Alliance LLC, that provides DLM services for the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest in San Diego, California, and remote sites in the Western Pacific.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted approval for the maintenance intervals escalation of Bombardier’s CRJ700, CRJ900, and CRJ1000 aircraft. The line maintenance interval (A-check) is extended to 800 flight hours, and the heavy maintenance interval (C-check) at 8,000 flight hours.

Charles Comtois, head of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft’s CRJ series program, says, “CRJ Series operators can now take advantage of 14% fewer maintenance days, meaning more days of revenue flying.”

The new maintenance intervals are applicable for new production deliveries as well as all CRJ700, CRJ900, and CRJ1000 aircraft in service.

FlexArm broke ground on a $4 million state-of-the-art headquarters in Wapakoneta, Ohio. The 53,000ft2 facility is slated for completion in Spring 2019, and will include research and development, engineering, customer testing/runoff, manufacturing, and administration for FlexArm and FlexCNC product lines. FlexArm President Nick Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio House Rep. Craig Riedel, City of Wapakoneta Mayor Thomas Stinebaugh, and JobsOhio Executive Vice President of Regional Development Julie Sullivan turned over the ceremonial first shovel.

FlexArm manufactures precision tapping machines, die grinders, torque reaction arms, and custom lifting solutions. FlexCNC manufactures CNC machines with 10ft to 80ft open beds, allowing long and large parts or multiple batches of components to be machined with a single setup.

The third-generation, family-owned manufacturing company will retain its current factory for warehousing and shipment of finished products and spare parts/service parts.

“We’re growing like crazy, and we’ve got people shoe-horned into the current facility,” said President Nick Kennedy. “This new space will enable us to continue our growth.”

Plastic-like forming process for metals offers cost and quality advantages for aircraft manufacturers.

There are an estimated 700,000 components in a Boeing 737NG, with more than 7,000 of these planes built to date. Many of these parts are produced via traditional manufacturing methods that require die-casting and value-added processes – machining, metal finishing, plating.

Metal injection molding (MIM) technology provides an alternative, and often better, processing method for the huge quantity of fasteners, screws, seatbelt components, wing flap screw seals, bushings, and dozens of areospace components. These important aerospace components are candidates for cost savings, weight savings, durability improvements, and enhanced cosmetic appearance by using MIM.

Every metal injection molding (MIM) project begins with mold design and build, which can take up to 16 weeks. Once the tooling is set, manufacturing time for batch quantities of 2,500 and higher can usually be accomplished in 4 weeks or less for as-sintered parts.

Aircraft designers should think in terms of the initial mold cost and the price of a one-year quantity of parts. Then amortize both over the projected design life of that part. With a minimum annual requirement of 10,000 pieces for starters, the aircraft manufacturer can easily specify quarterly part quantities and delivery with an anticipated 4-week lead time. Releases should run at no less than 2,500 to 3,000 parts with three or four releases a year. Compared to inside or outsourced precision machining for needed parts, this type of MIM relationship is far more consistent and reliable in terms of quality, price, and on-time delivery.

Aerospace designers have specified MIM for key aircraft components since the 1980s, but MIM hasn’t attracted large number of users. Now, designers searching for better ways to ensure quality while saving money are turning to MIM technology. And, with more than 49,000 aircraft projected to be manufactured by 2026, there’s tremendous component volume that MIM could support.

Just as composite fiber has replaced aluminum in fuselage and wing structures, and ceramics have replaced key engine components, MIM is replacing smaller, traditional metal components. A net-shape molding process for producing solid metal parts, MIM combines the design freedom of plastic injection molding with superior material properties near that of wrought metals.

MIM mixes metal powder with a thermoplastic binder and is molded into a cavity. The molded part is thermally processed (sintered), removing the binder while producing a net-shaped, high-density component. Because it’s a molding process, it can produce an almost limitless array of highly complex three-dimensional geometries in many different metal alloys.

Traditionally, aerospace manufacturers have used powdered metallurgy (PM), plastic molding, and precision machining smaller part designs, but a comparison reveals several advantages when using MIM.

MIM parts have greater metal density and 3x the fatigue strength of PM parts. A MIM processed part has the tensile strength of the original material. Also, PM parts are limited to 2D features while MIM allows complex aerospace geometry including undercuts, holes perpendicular to the main axis, and precise 3D features.

MIM is often better than precision machining aerospace components because of weight. Often, excess material is left in the part to save machining time and removal cost, retaining excess weight. In contrast, MIM parts incorpote many features incorporated into the tooling with excess material cored out, saving part weight, manufacturing time, material, and money in the final component cost.

MIM is superior to plastic components because MIM parts are conductive, magnetic, strong, stiff, chemically resistant, and can operate at temperatures far higher than the melting range of most polymers.

MIM should be considered as a cost-reducing technology when part production quantities are more than 10,000 pieces, are an appropriate size range, have complex shape, and require material performance, and necessitate reduced cost. MIM almost always has a cost advantage where the shape complexity is beyond the range of the other manufacturing processes previously described.

MIM is not a large part process. Parts measuring 3" in all directions or smaller and weighing 25g or less are the best MIM candidates. Combining multiple parts into a single component (assembly) is often possible with MIM to eliminate screws, adhesive bonding, soldering, and welding while reducing weight and cost of multiple components.

Shape complexity is an area where MIM is strongest. MIM is often specified for components ranging from 20 specifications (dimensions, locations, surface finish, material density, etc.) on the design drawing to more than 250 specifications. Surface finish flexibility allows everything from matte stainless steel to highly polished surface finishes and color. Almost everything cosmetically and practically possible is available when specifying MIM.

Smith Metal Products offers free design for manufacturability (DFM) assistance, helping designers identify areas where component wall thickness is excessive, making recommendations for alternate, cost-saving designs and lower tooling costs.

About the author: Jim Beyer is an account manager at Smith Metal Products and can be reached at 651.257.3143 or

Delta Computer Systems’ motion solution delivers precise multi-axis control, synchronization in a 17,000 lb swing table test stand.

NTS Corp., headquartered in Anaheim, California, offers testing, inspection, and certification projects for many industries, including aerospace, defense, automotive, and consumer markets.

“We have well over 150 different tests going on at the same time at our 125-acre Huntsville, Alabama, location alone,” says Jim Birkholz, NTS Huntsville design engineer.

The Huntsville facility uses some large-scale test systems. For example, one test stand developed by NTS, a swing table, weighs about 17,000 lb and has been designed to test naval and aerospace assemblies weighing up to 50,000 lb. The system has been used for testing the integrity of helicopter fuel tanks and for testing jet engines. (See photos at left.)

Orienting the test platform at different angles is necessary for many types of tests. For example, in the case of the helicopter fuel tank test, the manufacturer wants to verify that all the fuel doesn’t flow past baffles in the tank to pool at one end of the tank as the helicopter changes flight attitude. There’s also a vent system in the helicopter fuel tank that must be tested at different flight attitudes. The same swing table has been used to test the oil flow in one of the bearings in a jet engine to verify that it is adequate in all flight angles as the engine runs.

The 16ft x 16ft swing table is mounted approximately 8ft off the floor, suspended between two large gears turned by hydraulic motors; table height is adjustable to change the center of gravity of rotation. During the helicopter fuel tank tests, the table is swung 15° in each direction, 16x per minute in a sinusoidal pattern. NTS’ jet engine customer asked for the ability to turn the whole test assembly upside down.

NTS engineers chose hydraulic motors to drive gears, and since the building already contained a large hydraulic system, use of electric motors would have required installation of an outside transformer. As an added benefit, hydraulic fluids’ compliance delivers a more realistic simulation of real-world conditions when changing directions, and hydraulic actuators move easily to produce smooth, bi-directional motion of heavy loads.

“In rotating the two gears, we’re looking to synchronize their positions to within ±0.2°, which is significant given the weight of the platform we’re moving and its speed,” Birkholz says. “But what is most important is to ensure smooth operation of the table, shifting back and forth like a pendulum.”

RMC150/151 for high-performance motion control to hydraulic, electric servo, and pneumatic industrial applications has modes – including dual-loop position-pressure algorithms with connectivity to many transducer types – to control a range of motion applications.

The RMC150/151 CPU module comes standard with Ethernet, supporting EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, and Modbus/TCP protocols, and is designed to integrate easily with PLCs, PCs, and HMIs.

RMCTools software handles setup, programming, tuning, and diagnostics for RMC150 and RMC70 series controllers. It provides an immediate overview and easy access to all aspects of the motion application.

Plot Manager plots any register, up to 16 registers per plot, sampled down to the control loop resolution. The detail window provides plot item values at each sample. Plots can be exported to various file formats for use in other programs.

Intuitive wizards and tools can reduce setup time and simplify complicated calculations.

Building a flexible test stand such as the NTS swing table requires a motion controller that is easy to program and re-program for different test programs. In this application, the controller must interface easily to rotary encoders mounted on the gears and an inclinometer on the table.

The motion controller must deliver precise multi-axis control to maintain synchronized motion of the two gears as the table moves to programmed motion profiles. NTS used several methods of synchronizing hydraulic cylinders or motors in the past, and frequently found the position sensors (potentiometers) finicky, hard to adjust and keep in adjustment, and the controllers difficult to program.

For the new multi-function swing table test stand, Engineering Manager at Huntsville hydraulics distributor Flow Dynamics and Automation Inc., Jason Woyak, told Birkholz about the RMC motion controller family made by Battle Ground, Washington-based Delta Computer Systems Inc. Birkholz selected the 8-axis RMC150 (see page 23) for this task.

“The Delta controllers proved excellent at synchronizing cylinders,” Birkholz says. “The unexpected bonus was how easy the Delta controllers are to program. I could use the Delta RMC150 motion controller’s built-in sine wave command. I didn’t need to program sinusoidal motion with low-level machine instructions like you need with other motion controllers.”

To avoid the problem of unreliable potentiometer readings, Woyak suggested Birkholz use rotary encoders that interface directly to the motion controller.

In addition to facilitating motion programming, Delta’s RMCTools support package also contains components to simplify motion tuning.

“The built-in plotting capability in RMCTools allows you to tune the system very easily and very accurately,” Birkholz says.

The chart on pages 22-23, produced with Delta’s Plot Manager software, shows plots that give a clear view of how actual motion parameter values relate to target values through time.

“You will notice from the plot that the actual positions of the motors lag the target positions, but they track each other extremely well,” Birkholz notes. “We could not tune any tighter due to the backlash in the two gear trains.”

“When we did the first tuning we were getting a little bit of a knocking sound when doing cyclic motion,” Woyak says. “We updated the motion program to put in a delay on one side so there was always a little tension on the gears and the knocking was eliminated.”

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“We’ve had excellent experience with Delta controllers and we will use them whenever we do a hydraulic design,” Birkholz concludes.

Reid Bollinger is East Coast Regional Sales Manager for Delta Computer Systems. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with a BS in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing, and received his hydraulic training through Eaton Corp. and Racine/Bosch. He can be reached at 704.771.6305 or

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