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Measurement gauge enables production growth for aero manufacturer

Measurement gauge enables production growth for aero manufacturer

Senior Aerospace Weston is a leading supplier of a wide range of complex precision machined components and subassemblies, predominantly for the commercial aviation market. At the company’s machine shop in Earby, UK, 95% of output is for use in Airbus aircraft, mainly A320 and A321, but also A330, A380 and A350 models.

Most of the components are aerostructure (wing and main-frame) components; everything from small items measuring 50 mm, up to large engine pylon brackets and landing gear fittings. Some of the more complex aerostructure parts were taking up to 10 minutes to inspect using Senior Aerospace Weston’s existing coordinate measuring machines (CMMs). This would often cause bottlenecks and capacity limitations around the CMMs. To address the problem, the company introduced various manual inspection methods using traditional measuring equipment and hard gauging, but to limited effect.

With build-rates increasing, Senior Aerospace Weston recognised its responsibility to become even more efficient with in-cycle measurement without compromising quality. “We spoke with Renishaw and they proposed the Equator gauge, which is another level up from a traditional 3-axis CMM in terms of speed,” explains CMM programmer Andy Wright.

The thermally-insensitive Equator system is a flexible gauge that is designed to provide speed, repeatability and ease-of-use. Installed at Earby during January 2018, Senior Aerospace Weston has already programmed eight parts. “We have 70 parts that could fit on the gauging system, so there is high potential,” states Wright, who is also impressed with the system’s ease of use. “No special skills are required; the operator simply loads the part into the fixture, lets the cycle run and receives an easy-to-read report.”

Another factor behind the success of the project has been the sales and applications support from Renishaw: “The support we receive is first class,” says Wright. “Renishaw is very quick to answer any queries, and it almost feels like we’ve been assigned our own special support team.”

A key part of the support team for Senior Aerospace Weston is Renishaw applications engineer Ed Clarke, who comments: “For any customer with a turnkey project we will provide ongoing support for all stages of their project. If there are any queries, the customer can come directly to us for the support they require.”

Among the parts inspected at Senior Aerospace Weston using the Equator gauge is a titanium wing flap track component for Airbus aircraft. “Over the years we have gone through several process iterations and various equipment solutions trying to measure this part quicker with the required accuracy, but inspection would regularly fail due to component complexity and tight tolerances,” concedes Mr Wright. “However, using the Equator gauge we have been able to achieve a process that delivers accurate gauging and repeatability. The Equator gauge measures around 25 different features on this particular part, taking just 90 seconds in total.”

He adds: “The in-cycle measurement time has been significantly reduced, with our operators now just reviewing an electronic report. Inspection cycle time has been cut by 75%. Previously a manual measurement would be taken and recorded on paper; now, we have fully electronic reports with every dimension recorded. We can also use trend data to help identify potential areas for improvement in our manufacturing process.”

Equator gauging systems have helped to improve yield and increase process capabilities of production lines around the world, by providing high accuracy dimensional inspection data next to turning and machining centres, at the point of manufacture. The new larger Equator 500 system now enables the gauging of larger parts, with a working volume of 500mm in diameter and up to 400mm in height. Both Equator 300 and 500 systems are accurate between 5ºC and 50ºC at any rate of temperature change, and are capable of scanning speeds in excess of 200mm/s. Every system is compatible with simple-to-use Organiser operator software, EZ-IO software for automation, and IPC (intelligent process control) software for updating tool offsets on CNC machine tools.

The Equator 500 has a gauging volume of 500mm diameter in the X/Y plane and 250mm in Z when used with the SM25-2 scanning module. This can be expanded to 400mm in Z with the SM25-3 scanning module, which allows styli up to 200mm in length to reach many more features. The base of Equator 500 supports workpiece and fixturing with a total weight limit of 100kg.

The ratio of gauging volume to footprint means that the machine is extremely space efficient, with a footprint of just 920mm by 924mm. This allows manufacturers of larger parts to easily fit Equator 500 onto the shop floor alongside their production machines. Typical applications include the manufacture of car and truck transmission and engine casings, drive-train parts like conrods and differential housings, suspension castings, pressed parts, valves and pumps.

Most users of Equator systems need short cycle times to maximise throughput from their manufacturing processes. Both Equator 300 and 500 systems, while maintaining high levels of repeatability, are capable of rapid scans and high speed touch points on a wide variety of features. Years of customer experience with Equator systems have proven the capability to gauge size, position and geometry on a single device. This can eliminate the need to stabilise parts to the temperature of the quality room prior to measuring geometry and form of critical features.

The Equator range is compatible with new IPC software which allows constant monitoring and automatic adjustment of a machining operation, keeping part dimensions close to nominal and well within process control limits. This correction of process drift improves part quality and manufacturing capability, and reduces scrap.

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