You’ve heard of the Wright brothers. In December, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright had the first successful flight. Airplanes and flying machines quickly advanced in the next few decades. In 1913, Igor Sikorsky developed the first large multi-engine airplane. This aircraft was furnished with dual controls for a pilot and copilot, a comfortable cabin with a lavatory, heating, and lighting. That aircraft flew with 16 passengers, and was adapted into a bomber during World War 1.
In the 1920s, Ford manufactured 199 Trimotor planes which could carry 8 passengers. That plane made air travel development more popular, leading to runways, radio communication, airmail, and airport terminals.
And by the 1930s, people were traveling all around the world in planes and flying boats. Today, there could be anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 planes mid-flight at any given moment. And there are 1,000s of satellites launched into low-Earth orbit.
The aerospace industry is worth an estimated $300 billion, and there are no signs of it slowing down.
All of the aircraft, rockets, and satellites that fly through the air are manufactured with great precision. Even the slightest mistake or part failure can be catastrophic. The aerospace industry relies on the highest quality precision parts, and has little to no room for failure.
In this article, we’ll share how precision CNC machining is used in the aerospace industry.
A Boeing 747 has around 6 million parts, including 3 million fasteners. A typical airplane is grouped into 5 major areas: the fuselage, wings, stabilizer, engine, and landing gear. Each of those sections is made up of thousands of unique parts and components.
Many different machining processes are used to manufacture aerospace parts.
Swiss screw machining is a process that’s ideal for mass producing precision parts. Swiss screw machines are used to make smaller, cylindrical parts such as precision spacers, pins, and sleeves. This process is used when a large number of identical parts are needed, and it’s very efficient as the machine can run 24/7 with little human involvement.
CNC milling is a different machining process that’s used to make more complex parts. A 3-axis or 5-axis CNC machine uses various cutting tools to cut and shape parts to their specific design, inputted by the machinist. CNC milling is used for parts with square edges, irregular shaped parts, or parts with multiple surface features. The cutting tools can form multiple part features, and eliminate the need for secondary machining processes.
Broaching is also used, typically to machine gears, sprockets, and other transmission parts.
All of the machining methods used in the aerospace industry provide the unmatched precision that planes and other aircraft require.
Aerospace parts require great precision, but the parts also need to be made from the right materials. Aircraft and satellites require parts that are strong and lightweight. The parts need to handle the mechanical stress, and maintain their strength for long periods of time. Parts failing in the middle of a flight isn’t an option.
The 3 common materials used for aerospace parts are aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel.
Aluminum alloys are the typical go-to material for the aerospace industry. Aluminum has an excellent strength to weight ratio, and excellent corrosion resistance. Aluminum also has excellent machinability, which helps maintain precision and keep manufacturing costs lower.
There are a few different alloys used, which each have unique properties. The most popular aluminum alloys are: 7075, 6061, 6262, 2011, and 2024.
7075 aluminum is the strongest alloy and used for high-stress applications where parts with higher tensile strength are needed.
Aluminum 6061 has better corrosion resistance and is used for parts that require forming and welding. It’s commonly used for electronic components and aircraft fittings.
Titanium is used in the aerospace industry when greater strength is necessary. Although the raw material and machining of titanium is significantly more expensive, titanium is twice as strong as aluminum. It also has better corrosion resistance, and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures without losing strength.
Stainless steel is one of the most versatile metals in the world. It can be used for virtually any aircraft part. Like titanium, stainless steel is also stronger than aluminum, it can handle varying temperatures, and is highly resistant to corrosion. The disadvantage of stainless steel is that it’s much heavier compared to aluminum and titanium. If weight reduction isn’t a priority, a variety of stainless steel aircraft parts are used.
There are thousands of unique parts used in the aerospace industry. CNC machines are used for the small and medium sized metal parts that require very tight tolerances. Depending on the machine and part design, CNC machines maintain tolerances of ± 0.005″.
Common aerospace parts that are manufactured with CNC machines include:
Modern CNC machines can machine any type of part or component with great accuracy and efficiency, so the options are unlimited. In some cases, more complex parts will be machined separately and assembled later to reduce costs and maintain the tight tolerances.
Spex is an ISO 9001:2015 certified company, and has been in the precision machining industry since 1947. We’ve provided precision machined aerospace parts to a variety of customers, and our team continues to provide excellent service from planning your next project to managing your supply chain efficiently.
We have a robust network of suppliers, and the ability to serve you at any capacity– from 50 parts to millions of parts.
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Spex Precision Machine Technologies is an ISO 9001:2015 certified company. Organizations use this standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.
We incorporate world-class excellence in every step of the process, in our ongoing efforts to ensure your success.
Phone: (585) 467-0520
85 Excel Drive
Rochester, NY 14621