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Laser tracks aircraft parts

Nov. 1, 2003
COAST COMPOSITES INC. OF IRVINE, CALIF., MAKES forming tools (molds and mandrels) for large composite aircraft parts. These include skin and fuselage sections, stabilizers, and nacelles for both commercial and military aircraft. Because of where they are

Coast Composites measures its forming tools (molds and mandrels) for large composite aircraft parts with a Faro Laser Tracker. Most conventional inspection systems can't readily accommodate such big parts.

COAST COMPOSITES INC. OF IRVINE, CALIF., MAKES forming tools (molds and mandrels) for large composite aircraft parts. These include skin and fuselage sections, stabilizers, and nacelles for both commercial and military aircraft. Because of where they are used, tolerances on these parts have to be as close as ±0.010 in. on contours and ±0.003 in. on holes. The problem in holding these tolerances is the part size. An upper wing skin for the new JSF multi-role fighter, for instance, is 53-ft long, while a stabilizer part for a military transport measures 45 ft. Conventional inspection systems cannot readily accommodate such mammoth sizes, so Coast uses a Faro Laser Tracker.

According to Jerry Anthony, CEO of Coast, the largepart measuring device is simple to operate and collects hundreds of data points within minutes of setup. To use the system, an operator places the Tracker base on a tripod and takes measurements by touching or dragging a target reflector along the surface to be measured. The reflector then bounces beams back to the base unit.

If the beam between the Tracker and target is interrupted, the system's SuperADM feature lets it reacquire the beam without returning to a reference point. The measuring envelope of this system ranges from ±360° horizontal to +80°/50° vertical. Point accuracy is 10 µ +0.8 µ.

Using the angle between the beams and the distance to the target, software within the Tracker triangulates and records the position of each point within its 230-ft range. The sending/receiving unit mounts in any position and works in environments from factory floors to virtually any remote operation.

Coast adds a new wrinkle to the versatility of the Tracker by making it wireless. Through an antenna on the base unit, a 3D model travels directly to the Tracker's controlling computer. Measurement data and subsequent data analysis return wirelessly to the company's central file server, which is accessible to authorized personnel.

From the very beginning of its mold/tool development process, Coast incorporates the Tracker and sometimes expands its role by using it as a positioning device.

"Our molds/tools tend to be large and expensive to build because we use a lot of Invar to make them," explains Anthony. "Invar is a high-nickel-bearing ferrous alloy with a near-zero coefficient of thermal expansion, which makes it ideal for exothermic molding of carbon-fiber-composite parts. But it carries a high price tag and a reputation for being difficult to machine. As such, we cannot afford errors and rework. By giving us extremely precise specifications, the Tracker enables us to eliminate errors and get the molds made right the first time."

Faro Technologies

Software rehabilitates corrupt computers

IBM's Rapid Restore software restores corrupt operating environments on Fenner Drives' laptops in about 15 to 20 min, as opposed to hours.

REFORMATTING A CORRUPT PC OR LAPTOP TOOK ABOUT three to four hours at Fenner Drives, a manufacturer of industrial-belting, powertransmission, and motion-control components. As a midsized business with 300 employees, divisions in Manheim, Pa., and Wilmington, N.C., and a limited IT staff, the company decided to incorporate special software that restores a system in about 15 to 20 min. As a result, support time for PC recovery has dropped 90%.

Each of Fenner's IBM desktop PCs and ThinkPad notebooks stores Rapid Restore software from IBM's ThinkVantage Technologies. The software backs up and then quickly recovers the PC-operating environment in case of an emergency such as a virus or software crash. A single keystroke launches a program that lets Fenner restore the environment to the lastsaved, customized working condition.

With Rapid Restore, small to medium-sized businesses save by giving employees the ability to fix many software failures without resorting to a help desk.

"We chose IBM for many reasons — pricing, competitive advantage, and its ThinkVantage Technologies — but its sales staff far exceeded our company's expectations," says Jon Blomeier, PC-andnetworksupport technician at Fenner. "It was committed to our specific needs as a medium-sized business."


Machines keep cutting tool maker flexible

For flexible cutting tool production, Seco-Carboloy relies on machine tools from Mori Seiki.

THE CURRENT STATE OF THE economy is forcing companies to make their production facilities more flexible, and cutting tool manufacturer Seco-Carboloy of Warren, Mich., is no exception. The company's personnel are expected to not only work two machines but also come completely out of their sections and work at different ones. There's a lot of cross training on products, but Seco-Carboloy keeps it to a minimum by using mainly Mori Seiki machine tools throughout its facility.

Seco-Carboloy purchased its first Mori Seiki, an MV-40, in 1989 and now boasts 24 different machines. The Mori Seiki's let the company do more with less. A telling example is that Seco-Carboloy has increased its number of line items produced by 10% while also reducing its workforce.

The machines also give the cutting tool company more flexibility to handle smaller batch sizes and more reactivity in terms of its stock support. Although it is not producing the same overall volume, the company does much more setting up, and the Mori Seikis let them do this with fewer people.

For Seco-Carboloy, Mori Seiki machines reduce costs associated with downtime and maintenance. They do so by letting the company handle most of its maintenance in-house.

"We have probably handled 99% of everything that we have encountered," says Clark Squire of Seco-Carboloy. "The Mori Seiki machines are the easiest to work on because of the documentation — information available from Mori Seiki is unsurpassed."

Not only does this documentation make maintenance easy, so too does the information sharing between Seco-Carboloy, Mori Seiki, and distributor J & H Machine Tools. "We've received excellent phone support from J & H and Mori Seiki," says Squire. He adds that most parts come the next day with little leadtime, and that means shorter downtime.

"In the past three years, we haven't had a Mori Seiki or J & H technician in," boasts Squire. "We've been able to handle everything ourselves."

Mori Seiki

Tired motors get an efficiency boost

Variable-frequency drives from Saftronics installed at Unilever safely convert old, power-hungry AC motors into energysparing equipment that requires 50% less electricity.

VARIABLE-FREQUENCY DRIVES (VFDS) safely convert old, power-hungry ac motors into energy-sparing equipment. Attached to existing motors that power blowers, pumps, and fans — and installed under the guidance of experienced energyservices companies (ESCOs) — these VFDs decrease the need for electricity by 50% or more. They also ease maintenance demands by prolonging motor life.

At consumer-goods supplier Unilever's plant in Edgewater, N.J., for instance, a VFD retrofit yielded projected energy savings of 67% — accounting for an annualized cost savings of $86,708. And a calculated ROI of 111% enabled payoff within nine months of installation.

VFDs are electroniccontrol systems that manipulate the speed of AC induction motors by changing the frequency and voltage supplied to them. Motor speed, and therefore efficiency, is optimized to fit demands and is determined via sensor (in most cases, from a buildingautomation system) input. Most drives are programmable so the user can also dial-in operation conditions suitable for the application.

"If you look at heating and air-conditioning loads in a building, it's like a bell-shaped curve — you only need 100% flow about 5% of the time, depending on what part of the country in which you live," says Bob Hughes, president of Industrial Systems Group, an ESCO serving the East Coast. "A VFD gives you the ability to dynamically balance your system so the motor handles the load using less horsepower."

If a shop is putting in new motors, fitting any VFD is usually not a concern. But if it's a retrofit, as with Unilever, there can be problems with burning out the primary winding of the insulation. However, one company, Saftronics, makes some VFDs with soft switching that work with any existing motor in the field without damaging it.

Saftronics' VFD uses pulse-width modulation, employing microprocessorbasedalgorithms and soft-switching gate control that lower a motor's peak terminal voltage to reduce overheating and prolong its life.

To further extract efficiency gains from older motors, Saftronics VFDs incorporate Smart Bypass — a control system that lets the motor operate directly from the AC line instead of from a solid-state controller when 100% speed is required. Smart Bypass monitors the load and transfers to bypass when demand exceeds a userprogrammable limit. By doing so, it achieves an additional 3% to 5% energy savings.

"Once the Saftronics equipment is integrated into a plant's HVAC system, then it's a hands-off process," says Hughes. "Set in motion, it becomes transparent. It's really that good."


Software takes the drag out of part production

For parts it supplies to Team Winston, Alan Johnson Cylinder Heads reduces design and manufacturing leadtime with Esprit software.

THE SPEED AT WHICH Alan Johnson Cylinder Heads designs and programs new parts plays a major role in NHRA Team Winston's racing success. The company not only manufactures cylinder heads and other performance parts for Team Winston but also for automobile, motorcycle, and marine racing. With an Esprit programming system from DP Technology, the shop simplifies its processes, reduces errors, and quickly brings new designs to market.

"The geometry of a high-performance cylinder head can be extremely complex," says Alan Johnson, owner and crew chief for Team Winston, "but Esprit gives me all the tools I need to define it to a T. This software also simplifies the process of defining tools and cutting parameters in advance. As long as I am working with machines and material for which I have technology pages defined, I can typically go from CAD model to finished CNC program in an hour or two."

Besides reducing Alan Johnson Cylinder's design and manufacturing leadtime, Esprit substantially reduces errors. It does so mainly by generating the CNC program directly from the CAD model. To further reduce errors, the shop also simulates the manufacturing process in Esprit prior to producing actual parts. It finds and fixes problems in the software, so real-part production is usually trouble free.

A new design process starts with a sketch of the part geometry produced in Esprit. This sketch then goes to the CNC programmers, who finish up the details.

"When I have finished a design," says Todd Bastian, primary CNC programmer at Alan Johnson Cylinder, "I may ask Johnson to check it as I rotate, pan, and zoom the model." Once a model is okayed, Bastian specifies the tools to use and cutting feeds and speeds. In most cases, this involves opening the appropriate Esprit technology page that defines the standard tools and the most common machining parameters for that particular machine. While Alan Johnson Cylinder uses standard tools whenever possible, custom tools are available as a menu selection.

"Since we have been using Esprit," comments Johnson, "its developers have made important improvements that have helped us further reduce the time it takes to produce new products. One major example is the way this CAM system automatically generates toolpaths for pocketing. Once the part geometry and tool are defined, the program takes over and creates the toolpaths and the code needed to run them."

DPTechnology Corp.

High-speed HMCs triple shop's manufacturing capacity

The Mazak FH-5800's two-pallet shuttle lets Monterey load pallets while the machine is running.

MONTEREY MACHINING & MANUFACTURING INC., Castroville, Calif., serves the electronics industry. Productivity is paramount for the small company, which was formerly part of Synchronous Communications of San Jose, Calif., a provider of optical-networking technology.

"We started with two little no-name machining centers in the shipping area," says Rikk Jefferson, operations manager for Monterey. "Then we upgraded by adding two FH-5800 HMCs from Mazak — one 18 months ago and the second a year ago. On our old horizontal, we could pump out 40 parts in a 24-hr period. We can do the same on one of our new machines in 8 hr, a 3-to-1 increase in productivity."

That boost comes from a number of sources, primarily the 30-hp standard-spindle drive with 224 ft-lb torque, more than twice the horsepower of Monterey's previous horizontal. This is important because Monterey produces prototypes as well as part runs in the thousands on its equipment. "We average between 75% and 80% metal removal on most of our parts," says Jefferson. "We want them lightweight, yet sturdy. We use 6061-T6 aluminum, the same as that used for many aerospace parts."

One of the parts Monterey supplies Synchronous is an erbium-doped fiber amplifier (EDFA). Roughly the size of a shoebox, the EDFA is a two-piece module consisting of a bottom tray and a top piece available in a variety of sizes for use in fiberoptic networks.

Jefferson uses the Mazak's standard two-pallet shuttle system to load a tombstone while machining is being done on another. The four-sided tombstones have a bottom and top part on each side. "When the tombstone comes off, I have four complete parts and another tombstone ready to go," he says. "There's no stopping between runs."

The high-speed HMC further improves productivity by providing cutting rates up to 1,968 ipm for the X, Y, and Z axes, 0.7-G acceleration, 3.2-sec chip-to-chip automatic toolchange, and 1.8-sec table index per 90° of rotation. There are three spindle choices for various applications. "When we tried to do hogging on the other machines, it burned the spindle out," says Jefferson. "We called the machine manufacturer for help, and it referred us to the spindle manufacturer," he remembers. "Making this tray on our old equipment, the radii would be oblong or egg-shaped, not a true radius. Three-eighths would come out as one-half. Smoothness on the bottom would be less, and repeatability was off. Not so on the Mazak, which is right every time."

The shop went through a lot of end mills on its former machines. "When the tool would hit a corner on one of our parts, it just stayed at the same speed," remarks Jefferson. "This would make the tool flex and prevent it from cutting. The high-speed module on the Mazak Mazatrol control slows travel at the corner, leaving a higher-tolerance radii. The fastest our old machines could go is the starting point for our Mazaks."

Jefferson does all part prototyping and machine programming for Monterey, usually in EIA code, which posed no problem for the Mazatrol controls. "There are between 300 and 400 different parts we run," he says. "I use Mazatrol to incorporate all my EIAs into subroutines so I can activate the high-speed module when I want it. Not only do the radii come out better, the Mazatrol program means I don't have to go in and manually enter G-code after every single line of every subroutine in EIA."

The Mazak Tool Eye tool sensor also works with the Mazatrol control to reduce setup time, further increasing Monterey's productivity. The Tool Eye uses a special arm that automatically registers tool data in the CNC when the probe in the tool tip touches the part. Tool offset is registered automatically and stored for the next time a job is recalled. "I have certain programs that run on every single model we make," comments Jefferson. "All I have to do is tell the EIA to call up this subroutine and the Mazatrol already knows what tool to use and where it's at. Programming is faster, and setup is a breeze."

Machine diagnostics on the Mazatrol control also benefit Jefferson's shop. "With the other machines, when something went wrong, we had to break it down to investigate. With the Mazatrol, a screen pops up, tells you where the problem is, and how to fix it. You're back running a lot faster."

In addition to productivity benefits, the Mazaks have also helped Monterey improve part quality. "Essentially, we can make our parts better than the print calls for on our Mazak equipment," Jefferson says. "I just throw a block in, hit start, and walk away."

Mazak Corp.

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