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Assn. for Advancing Automation

Aerospace Shop Cuts Machining Steps – and Drives More Business

Sept. 7, 2023
First came a single, five-axis universal machine, and then more, plus onboard CNC control, ... reducing cycle time by 50% and tooling costs by 60% for a Seattle-area job shop.

Honeycutt Manufacturing, a Mukilteo, Wash., job shop supplying precision parts to aerospace, marine, and general industrial markets, made a game-changing investment in a Grob Systems' G550T five-axis universal machine. The family-owned and operated shop had been doing well for several years running two-axis lathes and vertical machine centers, and drawing business mainly from various Boeing programs and other aerospace-related orders in the local supply chain.

“We didn’t feel we had the workload for a five-axis machine at the time our local machine tool dealer, Vince Selway of Machine Tools NW, approached us about the Grob machines,” recalled general manager Nick Honeycutt. “We have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Vince, so we were certainly interested in his suggestions.” Honeycutt purchased a four-axis horizontal machine, and the results were acceptable – and a base savings had been realized – but then a particular job opportunity presented itself and the shop purchased its first Grob, a G550T five-axis machine with advanced machining technologies.

After the commissioning and training, including training on the Sinumerik 840D sl control with Siemens CNC account manager, Daniel Vitullo, the first parts were produced to specification on the very first day of run-time. After two weeks, Honeycutt Manufacturing brought a variety of customers into the shop to see the Grob machine in action - and  immediately it was awarded more work.

“We were able to reduce the machining set-up operations from six to two with the Grob, cutting cycle times by 50% and reducing our tooling costs about 60-70%,” Honeycutt explained. Within 30 days, the shop was ready to buy its second Grob with Siemens CNC, and plans were made to expand the shop for room to house three or four more machines.

Much of the aerospace work done at Honeycutt Manufacturing involves aluminum, with very high removal rates, but a further advantage emerged with the Grob-Siemens combination. With jobs involving Inconel and titanium, the power of the machines plus the typical 0.0006-in. accuracies and 32-Ra finishes they are able to achieve has won the machine shop even more work, according to the general manager. These levels of accuracy and finish-quality are critical on the aerospace parts produced, which range from aluminum leading edges to titanium elevator controls for the Boeing 737, as well as lab devices for precision measurement, and components for commercial and pleasure boat construction.

Vince Selway, the regional rep for Grob machine tools, noted that the first five-axis machine, “… worked so well, and they were so excited by what they witnessed on their shop floor, as it performed aluminum hog outs at such an incredible rate, that they could barely keep up with the chips flying. Even better were the accuracy, finish and speed being achieved on the really tough-to-machine materials.”

Andy Krupp, a universal machine applications engineer at Grob, elaborated on his company’s focus for this project. “Grob is a global supplier to the automotive, aerospace, mold-and-die, and energy industries. We’re involved in many emerging-technology developments too, such as e-mobility. We build our five-axis machining centers for our metalworking customers, plus we can supply full automation cells to meet their specific production requirements. This can be a dedicated, high-volume solution or a highly flexible solution for a low-volume, high-mix production.”

He continued: “The Grob horizontal five-axis design is unique and offers many advantages over conventional five-axis vertical machines on the market. All these machines are built at our factory in Bluffton, Ohio. On this Honeycutt project, the addition of our five-axis machines helped to significantly improve their aerospace part production, while maintaining the highest quality standards.”

Commenting on the Sinumerik 840D sl CNC, Krupp further noted: “Siemens is one of several controls we use on our machines, but is the only control for special complex machining options we’ve developed on our machines, including multi-tasking mill-turn, skiving (used for gear production), high-end hobbing, cross-feed spindle configurations, and more.

“One of the great things about using the Sinumerik 840D control is its ease-of-use," he continued. "Training people who have used other brands of CNC and bringing them to a comfort level using Siemens has actually been quite simple. In-putting information and using the control seem to be much more intuitive than with other brands and we’ve found this cuts the learning curve, significantly.”

Selway added that, “The capabilities of the Grob machines with Siemens helped sales at Honeycutt, almost immediately. My customers who are most successful are the ones who follow the proper protocol for training, invest in it and take the time to do it properly. They go to the factory, meet the people at Grob, get a deep understanding of the machines’ functionalities and diligently complete the training for their operators. This all contributes to more success with the machines, in a much shorter time span.”

On the five-axis machines installed at Honeycutt, the Sinumerik CNC is outfitted with the Grob-4 Pilot control panel, allowing the machine builder to incorporate additional applications onto the 24” operator interface (HMI).

“The Siemens CNC was relatively easy to learn for our operators, due to the training we received from Grob and from Siemens,” according to Nick Honeycutt. “We had a lot of experience with other control brands, but the speed and power of the Grob five-axis machines with Sinumerik made the higher-level CNC very necessary to execute our complex operations on a single machining center.”

He also noted the Siemens control on the Grob machines easily interfaces with the CAD and CAM platforms Honeycutt Manufacturing uses.

The shop runs multiple shifts, seven days a week, and is continuing to expand to meet the additional business being generated by the Grob five-axis machines and other services they provide, including waterjet and laser marking. Honeycutt has a network of local machine shop partners, who provide swaging, certified aerospace and marine welding, precision gun-drilling, wire EDM, super-finishing, and large-scale as well as flat precision grinding services.