The aviation industry is continuously expanding across the globe at a rapid rate in recent decades, and millions of complex metal components are produced on an annual basis to meet demands for construction, repair, and much more. One of the most important innovations that bolstered metal production was aerospace CNC machining, which allows for the rapid construction of diverse aircraft parts and prototypes with lightweight materials such as aluminum and titanium. Whether one is assembling or designing a civilian aircraft, military jet, or space exploration vehicle, all applications rely on CNC machining to carry out the development and production process.
The aerospace industry is quite diverse, and as stated before, it covers anything from civilian aircraft that traverse small distances to complex spacecraft that push our limits in space. Globally, the aerospace industry is estimated to be valued around $800 billion in the present, and this number continues to grow as new airports and facilities open up and expand across countries. As the aerospace manufacturing sector serves countless customers big and small, it is important that there are advanced manufacturing technologies to support such needs. Aerospace CNC machining strikes a balance between traditional techniques and cutting-edge technologies, serving as an established manufacturing process for many parts.
When discussing machining, one is referring to the removal of sections of materials on a workpiece through the use of machine-operated cutting tools. With CNC machining in particular, machining is controlled through digital systems, allowing for computers to manage motorized cutting tools to create parts in rapid succession and with ample precision for increased quality and reliability. While a seemingly advanced process, aviation CNC machining can trace its history back to the 1942 invention of the overall method itself. In the early days of CNC machining aerospace parts, the majority of production centered around bulkheads and wings. Nevertheless, modern processes now encompass the production of transmission components, landing gear equipment, electrical products, and so much more. In addition to production, such machining is also relied on for various repairs, modifications, engravings, and more.
As the parts and components installed in or on an aircraft must meet rigorous specifications and requirements for airworthiness, the CNC machines used for producing critical end-use components are highly advanced. Generally, 5-axis machining centers are used for precision machining, and components such as jet engine parts will necessitate machining tolerances as low as 4 microns, that of which is an extremely tighter tolerance than is normally exhibited in standard CNC machining endeavors.
While some examples of aircraft parts produced through CNC machining were previously mentioned, the process is generally followed for low-volume parts that require an ample amount of strength and/or fine design features. If strength is the most important need, titanium is used. For reducing weight while maintaining ample rigidity, aluminum is the best choice. Despite aluminum alloys and titanium being the most commonly used materials, other substances such as plastics or composites may also be used in aerospace CNC machining.
With the intensive requirements surrounding aviation parts and little room for error in manufacturing, aerospace machining requires certification. For example, the AS9100 certification is common for aerospace part protection, and it is a model covering quality assurance in design, development, production, installation, and servicing. Alongside such a certification, some companies may choose to specifically work with suppliers that have other certifications and accreditations as well.
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