Aerospace manufacturing is not like manufacturing for other industries. Companies in this sector routinely face production requirements and engineering challenges unlike those of shops serving any other market. For this reason, the aerospace sector deserves a manufacturing event all its own. In Chicago this September, it will have one.
The “TRAM3” aerospace conference—for Trends in Advanced Machining, Manufacturing and Materials—is being sponsored by Boeing and Rolls-Royce. Modern Machine Shop and its sister publication High Performance Composites are among the organizers, along with AMT–the Association For Manufacturing Technology.
The two-day conference will occur September 12-13 in Chicago’s McCormick Place during the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). Researchers, technology leaders and manufacturing executives will speak about topics in aerospace manufacturing throughout the two days. Learn more at www.tram-conference.com
The program begins with keynote addresses from leaders within the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), Boeing Research & Technology and Rolls-Royce. Here is a preview of ideas they will share:
Trends in Advanced Machining, Manufacturing and Materials
A welcome address by Adrian Allen, commercial director of the AMRC, will aim to explain and highlight the engineering, environmental and economic drivers forcing change in the way aircraft are designed and made. In particular, he says he will focus on how environmental targets can be met only by increased operational performance—meaning lighter structures and higher-output engines.
The resulting introduction of new materials—whether a super high-strength stainless steel, a heat-resistant superalloy, or a carbon fiber or metal matrix composite—demands a reassessment of the means and methods for machining and manufacturing, says Mr. Allen. He hopes attendees will leave the conference with a strong understanding of what the future holds so they can consider how they and their companies can best harness and exploit coming developments in aerospace manufacturing.
The AMRC is concerned with investigating and validating new tools, techniques and technologies associated with manufacturing aircraft structures and engines. He says validating a new material or process for use in making a critical aircraft component requires at least nine stages of verification. In the case of a new material, the first stages evaluate the material’s ability to satisfy some fundamental “musts” related to mechanical properties. As the material satisfies each subsequent level of interrogation, it moves up the manufacturing readiness curve until it is deemed fit to fly.
“It is not easy to introduce a new manufacturing process or a new material into an aircraft build program,” says Mr. Allen. “I am looking forward to attendees’ reactions when they hear of some new materials for aerostructures that are presently unmachinable, given that they are harder and tougher than the majority of cutting tool materials currently used every day.”
The Future of Aerospace Manufacturing—a Global Perspective
Collaborative research has dramatically increased both the scope and pace of manufacturing innovation, says Peter Hoffman of Boeing. In his keynote presentation at TRAM3, he will detail this new model for manufacturing research and discuss how that research is no longer separate from the supply chain.
Mr. Hoffman is the director of global research and development strategy for Boeing Research & Technology. Part of his group’s role is researching the research—finding where work is being done that can advance Boeing’s products or processes. Another part of his group’s role is directing Boeing’s own research, and he says this increasingly involves independent research centers where Boeing can partner with other companies to pursue common goals.
The AMRC in the U.K. is an example of such a facility. Boeing is not the site’s owner; the AMRC is overseen by the University of Sheffield. But Boeing is a leading partner that is able to combine research efforts and funds with other partner companies. Boeing uses centers like this in various countries to leverage its research dollars.
“Our thinking is, whatever the problem, some other company is also trying to solve it,” he says. “So why not share the cost and results?”
The rise of this model has brought two striking benefits. One was anticipated: There is now more money for manufacturing research. Cooperation frees up funds, because it eliminates redundant efforts within separate companies.
The benefit that Mr. Hoffman says he and other corporate R&D leaders did not anticipate is the extent to which supplier companies have also become involved. In addition to OEMs, various research center partnerships now include contract manufacturers, machine tool builders, cutting tool makers and material suppliers. “We now have the value chain all lined up,” he says.
As a result, a new manufacturing technology is not presented to the supply chain cold. Instead, in many cases it is implemented by companies that have already helped fund and oversee its development. These suppliers obtain a head start at technology adoption unlike anything that has been available to suppliers before. Mr. Hoffman’s presentation will explore various examples and implications of this.
Competitive Advantage Through High-Value Manufacturing
Dr. Hamid Mughal, executive vice president of manufacturing engineering for aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce, says that competitive advantage in manufacturing is an objective generally aspired to, but rarely achieved. Why?
“Many of the reasons relate to an inadequate understanding of the critical pre-requisites, capabilities and approaches required to achieve best-in-class manufacturing performance,” he says. He will speak to this within his TRAM3 keynote presentation.
Various established manufacturing companies are coming under pressure from the growing strength of producers in emerging economies, he notes. This isn’t new. However, the recent global downturn brought a sharper focus to the question of what constitutes an effective strategy for long-term manufacturing success.
Dr. Mughal will highlight challenges and opportunities manufacturers face, and the strategic significance of manufacturing excellence—a term he’ll define in part by looking to manufacturing both inside and outside of the aircraft industry to identify the factors that traditionally contribute to high levels of inefficiency and waste. His talk will address the barriers to achieving excellence and the extent of the performance gap in manufacturing across different sectors, all to suggest a comprehensive approach for achieving a high level of manufacturing competitiveness.
That approach includes focused investment, attention to process capability and flow, and the application of advanced manufacturing technologies. The aim is to realize the potential for achieving “step-change performance improvement by the application of a highly integrated, knowledge-based manufacturing framework,” Dr. Mughal says.