While the aerospace manufacturing industry may employ the same equipment and techniques as other manufacturing operations in producing parts for spacecraft and aircraft, it requires a significantly higher level of quality standards.
In fact, companies that want to become part of the industry must possess several certifications first. Getting certified will attest to the stringent quality management in place at each level of their manufacturing processes.
The reason for the higher standards is the complexity in the design of most aerospace parts. Companies must observe precise tolerances when manufacturing them, and not all fabrication shops are set up to do that. For instance, some companies use 3D printing, while others employ computer numerical control (CNC) machining.
While both prototyping methods work and create high-quality parts, 3D printed products may not have the industry-required durability. On the other hand, an aerospace precision machining company creates parts precisely using automated tools, giving their products the strength required for their applications.
However, aircraft failures can’t be avoided completely even with high regulation in the aerospace industry. In the US alone, over a thousand planes crashed in 2010. Of course, not all of those crashes resulted from a specific part malfunction. The weather, the pilots’ skills, and other elements also play a role. But huge lawsuits usually follow when a malfunctioning part results in a crash.
As you probably already know, the consequences of lawsuits involving aircraft crashes can be fierce.
That’s why in this article, we’ll discuss some of the ways aerospace manufacturing companies can maintain quality in their processes.
1. Implementing A Well-Defined Workflow
A well-defined workflow is an important aspect of aerospace parts manufacturing. Manufacturers should implement a workflow that makes it possible to fabricate parts repeatedly with high precision. One way to do this is by turning to CNC machining.
CNC machining processes such as milling and turning ensure the strength required for aerospace parts by building them out of a solid material. Even tight tolerances and complex geometries wouldn’t be an issue when using precision machines. For this type of processes, a CNC lathe can be used. Whether the CNC lathe is new or used, it’s recommended to verify with the dealer its specifications to guarantee proper usage according to the aerospace regulations.
Implementing a well-defined workflow also means producing aerospace precision parts from detailed computer-aided design/manufacturing information. CAD/CAM allows fabrication shops to catch every specified part detail, such as unique finishing. The highest levels of quality can be achieved as a result.
A well-defined workflow, however, requires an experienced engineering team. That’s why manufacturing companies must ensure that they have the right engineers who can help produce aerospace parts at the highest level of precision possible.
2. Having A Quality Assurance Team
A quality assurance (QA) team can also be of great help in maintaining quality in aerospace manufacturing. These are the individuals who complete quality assurance activities during production.
The work of QA team members is crucial. They perform in-process inspections and track and report measurement comparisons to product specifications. The QA team also ensures damaged material requisitions. Therefore, aerospace manufacturing companies should only employ certified individuals who’ve undergone heavy training to prepare them for the job.
The QA team can act as an ‘audit team’ as well, or the company can form another team for this specific task. The audit group’s primary function is conducting an internal audit for the different departments involved in the manufacturing process. Both audits and quality assurance activities should occur more frequently in mistake- or error-prone areas or departments.
3, Administering A Quality Management System (QMS)
A QA team needs technology, like a quality management system (QMS), to perform their job more effectively. In fact, a large part of the quality assurance budget of aerospace parts manufacturers should be for administering a QMS.
A QMS displays business process, quality, and safety data. QA team members will find anything from work instructions to quality assurance forms on the system. The QMS manager works with the QA team members to maintain the QMS and ensure that all documents stored are up-to-date. An updated QMS is vital to maintaining quality in aerospace manufacturing since every division and individual in the company is somehow linked to it.
4. Choosing The Right Materials
A clear workflow, a good quality assurance team, and an updated quality management system won’t be enough without the right materials. The materials that manufacturers use should also be of excellent quality.
Features to look for in aerospace manufacturing materials when collaborating with suppliers include:
- Strength (high tolerance to damage)
- Reliability (high heat and fatigue resistance)
- Weight (taking into account aircraft aerodynamics and fuel economy)
- Corrosion resistance (especially those that’ll be used for engine parts)
A good example of an aircraft part that requires the best materials available would be the wings. They need metals with high fatigue resistance, fracture toughness, and high compressive yield strength for maximum performance.
Choosing the right materials ensures not only maximum performance for aerospace parts but also a longer life span.
5. Controlling Facility Conditions
Aerospace parts need facilities that also perform at a high level to meet strict industry quality standards. That being the case, fabrication shops must control the conditions of their facilities.
Controlling facility conditions in aerospace manufacturing means:
- Controlling temperature: Today’s aerospace products require greater accuracy. Companies should have temperature control measures to minimize the component or part’s thermal expansion and support closer tolerances.
- Controlling humidity: Too little humidity damages electronic components due to static electricity buildup. On the other hand, extreme humidity causes cut edges to absorb excess moisture. Excess moisture absorption can be a problem when the cut edges get baked or autoclaved. Thus, humidity control is crucial.
- Maintaining cleanliness: Complete cleanliness may not be possible, but near ‘cleanroom’ cleanliness prevents potential structural flaws during laminating processes by minimizing dust inclusion.
The last but not the least tip for maintaining quality in aerospace manufacturing is automation.
How does the automation of processes benefit aerospace manufacturing? For starters, it increases efficiency. That’s because automated processes can work 24/7 and are faster than human operators.
Automation also improves productivity as robots can work in tight spaces. And since there’s no need for operators to perform hazardous tasks manually anymore, automation improves safety as well.
A company that manufactures parts for the aerospace industry must perform the steps discussed above to maintain quality.
When a fabrication shop follows a well-defined workflow, has a quality assurance team, administers a QMS, uses the right materials, controls facility conditions, and automates where possible, the aerospace parts or components they produce will surely be of the highest quality.