CNC Value Added Services for Aerospace Machining

Airplanes and other aerospace items need to be ordered well in advance of when they are needed.  With long lead times and relatively low volumes – a good jet sells 200-300 units in a year – aerospace companies can get a pretty good read on what their needs will be for the next year or so.  To aid our customers of aerospace machine parts we have added several services without increasing our costs to our customers.  You can read all about our aerospace services in detail at our aerospace machining page or our aerospace machining definition page.

Our advanced information management capabilities allow us to provide long term stocking arrangements or kanban shipping.  In many cases we hold the inventory for our aerospace customers and allow them to draw from our inventory rather than maintain their own inventory.  We use various just-in-time production techniques to keep up with our customers’ assembly demands.  For one of our customers we deliver parts on an demand-flow basis directly to the assembly line.. In addition we are able to build to an annual forecast, rather than directly to individual purchase orders. Machining the parts to an annual forecast, while we also maintain the inventory, combines to save our customers considerable cost and time.

CNC Industries has the ability to handle many different methods of receiving orders.  We have multiple electronic systems, such as Exostar which many aerospace companies use, through which we receive new orders. We also have many customers who send electronic triggers through email to indicate additional requirements.

Some other value added services are more transparent to our customers but are still important. Our standard practice of handling machined parts within our facility is to create unique totes and tubs to protect the parts throughout the entire manufacturing process.  We have strict maintenance policies and keep our facilities climate controlled, clean, and well lit.  One traditional view of machine shops is that they are dingy, dirty and dangerous to walk around in. When coming to CNC Industries, we expect that you will immediately notice the difference in the care we take in maintaining our facility. Visitors frequently tell us that our facility is the cleanest and most advanced manufacturing facility that they have seen.

Changes to CNC Industries website

CNC Industries is going to be adding to our main website content.  In examining our website we feel that we are not addressing some topics enough on our main site.  While I am attempting to add content to our blog to help fill these voids, we are going to be adding many new pages over the next while to fill in the gaps that we see as present.

The first additions that we have made are aerospace machining and the definition of aerospace machining.  We are focused heavily on aerospace machining, and we want our website to reflect this.  The purpose of having two pages on essentially the same topic is to provide the detail information that not everyone will be familiar with.

While our website is very informative and serves to provide the same information that you will get from most shops, we are not satisfied with meeting the standards.  We want anyone that comes to our site to be able to tell right away if CNC Industries will be a good fit to be a supplier for them.  Our aerospace machining page is the first in a series of pages that is designed to address this issue.

Our Definitions area of the website will become filled with basic information about precision machining, and other topics which relate to CNC Industries.  We will look to explore what defines precision machining and differentiates it from standard machining.  We will of course look at what goes into aerospace machining, industrial machining, medical machining, automobile machining, and military machining and why CNC Industries has chosen the focuses that we have.

What is aerospace machining?

Aerospace machining is a subset of CNC machining.  Specifically aerospace machining (as you can tell from the name) deals with parts manufactured for use on airplanes, satellites, the space station, or other aircraft.  Aerospace machining is defined by its complexity, use of lightweight high strength materials, rigid requirements and specifications, and the strict precision necessary for the manufacture of the parts.

Components made by a cnc machine shop for use in the aerospace industry will typically be designed to be assembled with other components – whether machined or stocked parts.  As such, it is vitally important for a machine shop focused on aerospace machining to be able to produce high precision machined parts every time.

Parts may be made from a variety of different materials.  At CNC Industries, we have focused on aluminum which is a major component in many types of aircraft.  Aluminum machining has it’s own areas of complexity and is very different from steel machining that may be more familiar to automobile manufacturers.  Aluminum is a focused material in aerospace machining because it is lightweight yet still very strong.  Titanium is also used for many space oriented components, but due to the cost and increased difficulty of machining, is not as prevalent in traditional aircraft.

Importance of proper quality control in precision machining

Poka-yoke, fail-safeing, mistake-proofing, any way that you call it, quality control is critical to running a precision machine shop.  Quality control comes in many different flavors.  All machine shops will have an inspection or metrology department to check for quality before any parts leave the facility.  It is often less expensive and more efficient to create quality at the source.

At CNC Industries, we focus on creating advanced fixtures to prevent many of the common problems that might occur in the machining process.  Our Pre-Flight meetings are an opportunity to talk through any and all issues that might affect a new custom machined part.   This process is critical when running difficult aerospace precision machined parts or military parts.  With the complexities of the aerospace components that we make, it is vital that all potential pitfalls in production are identified early in the process.  It is at this time we are also determining the type and design of the fixture that we will use to prevent problems in production.

No matter how good the fixtures and the production router are, there is still a chance of problems occurring throughout the process.  At CNC Industries, we have well trained personnel on all machines that are capable of running their own in-process inspections to detect any problems throughout the manufacturing process.  All of our parts are assigned frequent in-process inspections to ensure that no problems creep in undetected.

With several of our aerospace customers performing no incoming inspection it is critical to have adequate inspection processes throughout our production.  Our final inspection process is thorough and performed on best-in-class equipment to provide our customers with the utmost confidence that they are receiving quality parts with each delivery.   At CNC Industries we take full accountability for all of our parts – from the initial purchase order to the final delivery of the machined parts to the customer.

Ordering custom machined parts with a new machine shop supplier

In continuing the last post on finding a new precision machine shop for custom machined parts, I am going to go over a bit of what to expect with the first order or two.

Communication is still the key to the process.  At CNC Industries, we have often been told that our communication is a large part of the reason that we are among their favored suppliers.  Precision Machining is a relatively tricky process still today.  The information overload that comes with each part drawing can often lead to overlooked features or specifications.  Aerospace components often contain numerous mil-specs, large amounts of technical call-outs, and even purchase order specifications.  Even parts that are less complex than aerospace components may have critical details that are easy to overlook.  Part Revisioning can cause increased complexity and another chance to overlook some crucial piece of information.  If you have not checked yet, it is important to check into your supplier’s information management system.

It is important for the machine shop that you are starting out with to ask any clarifying questions necessary to get the complete picture of the machined part that they are producing.  Ideally all questions from the machine shop should have come out during the RFQ process.  However, it is not uncommon for the engineering team to take a deeper look at the part as they prepare the production router and fixture.  In the RFQ process of a new customer that we acquired we were able to ascertain that they had mislabeled a set of drawings that they had sent out for us to quote.  Through our examination of the part we noticed that some of the details seemed to be wrong for the stated use of the part.  We consider our discovery of this error on their drawing to be a large part of the reason that we received the initial purchase order.

Another important aspect of the first job is to carefully select what part or parts you will be sending to the new supplier.  It has worked best at CNC Industries to have a new customer order a variety of potential parts in the initial order.  It is good to have a scope of potential work complexities.  If you are to start doing work with a new precision machine shop and only send small simple work to them, you may find that they are not capable of handling the complex machined parts that you want to order down the road.  Likewise if you are sending only complex parts and you want to have a single source to deal with for machined parts, you may find that the machine shop is not price competitive on  simpler parts.  One way to deal with both of these issues is to give at least a relative expectation of cost to your new supplier, ie: ‘for our simple parts we typically pay half of what we pay for the complex parts’.  As you can see from our parts profile page, CNC Industries works with a large variety of complexities and quantities on a daily basis.

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CNC Industries is a Fort Wayne, Indiana based machine shop specializing in precision CNC machining, fabrication and assembly of application-critical and custom machined parts for the Aerospace, Defense, Medical, Industrial and Transportation  markets.   The company presently employs approximately 55 people.

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Needed: Precision Machine Shop for Custom Machined Parts

Many companies that need custom machined parts are not sure of the process of getting started with a machine shop supplier.  In this post I will go over the basic process.  As I talked about in a prior post about evaluating a precision machine shop, it is important be careful in selecting a supplier of custom made parts.  In society today it is normal to simply  go with the lowest price on pretty much any purchase.  With the modernization of production, it is normally safe to assume that any product purchased will pretty much be the exact same no matter where it is purchased.  With custom machine parts, it is important to ensure that the supplier is qualified and capable of making the part.

Large companies will spend a large amount of time vetting a new supplier that makes custom machined parts.  Two recent companies that have started with CNC Industries, spent an average of 6 months in the process of examining our company before sending their first production purchase orders to us.  In the process of examining our company the new customers looked at our production capabilities, our information management systems, our  inspection processes, and the custom machined parts that we have made in the past.

Now a small company will probably not have a team that is used to handling this process.  Many small companies may never have had to order custom parts before.  For those companies 6 months research of a new machine shop supplier is probably not an option that they can consider.  In that case, an examination of the website of the potential supplier is worthwhile of course, but anyone can have a nice web presence.  It is still possible to feel out a new machine shop without the lengthy process that large companies go through.

One way to start is to simply send out a Request For Quote  (RFQ) to the machine shop in question.  I would certainly recommend not simply going off of the price of the quote as the only determinate of which company to go with.  After receiving the quotes, you will probably see a wide variety of prices come in.  After getting these quotes call up a couple of machine shops from different price levels and ask to talk about how they are going to manufacture your part.  You will be able to  get a feel of the company by how they describe the process.  Some questions to ask them:

  • How did the come up with the price that they did?
  • What engineering steps take place before manufacturing?
  • What process control methods do they employ to ensure quality throughout manufacturing?
  • How is their inspection done?
  • Are they certified ISO or any other appropriate certification?

and one other that has been useful to many of our customers:

  • Are there any changes to the part that the machine shop would recommend in order to lower production cost?

We have been able to save many of our customers considerable amount on their prices by making minor non-functional changes to the part to enable easier machining.  Engineers that are focusing on assembly and pure functionality of the parts that they are designing may add features into a part that slow production time considerably but are not necessary to the functioning of the component (undercuts, overly tight tolerances, odd size material requirements, unusual material types etc)

Of course ask any other questions that you see appropriate.  It is important that you feel comfortable working with the machine shop that you decide upon. Our philosophy is that the most important measure of a machine shop is that of customer satisfaction.  We believe in what we call the 3 legged stool: Price, Quality and Customer Service.  Each of these attributes contributes to the overall value of the precision machine shop.

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CNC Industries is a Fort Wayne, Indiana based machine shop specializing in precision CNC machining, fabrication and assembly of application-critical and custom machined parts for the Aerospace, Defense, Medical, Industrial and Transportation  markets.   The company presently employs approximately 55 people.

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Addressing Precision Aerospace Machining Difficulties

In the last post I talked about the difficulties of precision machining aerospace parts.  I would like to address these issues and specifically talk about how CNC Industries handles each of them.

The first issue, namely tight tolerances, is addressed in a few different ways.  The first step is to make sure that the equipment being used is capable of the types and quality of machining necessary.  Proper maintenance is also an important step, many companies lay-off their maintenance staff at the first sign of a downturn.  Maintenance is a key aspect of CNC Industries’ strategy.  The second step of ensuring that tolerances are met happens in engineering.  Engineering staff creates fixtures, work drawings, and machine code to run the part correctly.  Engineering is another key area that CNC Industries believes should not be cut too early.  The third step is to ensure that information about the part flows correctly.  To aid in this we have written our own ERP system.  Job Manager 2 is a real time system that enables information to be updated and transferred throughout the facility so that any changes made are implemented immediately.

The second issue, the amount of material removed, is a prime engineering problem.  The fixture created for each part must take into account the changes in strength that the material will go through during the machining process.  With fixturing being such an important aspect of creating a good custom machined part, we go through a process we call the Pre-Flight Meeting.  In this meeting our top management, quality assurance, engineers, and shop floor supervisors meet to discuss any issues that we see as important to the manufacturing of the part.

The third issue, external quality standards, is again addressed through information management.  Our ERP system allows each part to have an unlimited amount of quality standards.  The part routers created in Job Manager 2 allow for any and all detailed information to be added to an individual operation.  The amount of detail contained in each router, in addition to the real-time ERP system allows us to ensure that all of the information needed to complete a job to the full satisfaction of our customer is accessible at all times.

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CNC Industries is a Fort Wayne, Indiana based machine shop specializing in precision CNC machining, fabrication and assembly of application-critical and custom machined parts for the Aerospace, Defense, Medical, Industrial and Transportation  markets.   The company presently employs approximately 55 people.

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