Aerospace & Defence

CNC machining aerospace parts: what you need to know

30th July 2021
Alex Lynn

The global aerospace industry has been delivering innovative and groundbreaking manufacturing technologies for decades. The demand for machined components has increased exponentially over the years owing to the expansion of technological horizons.

By Peter Jacobs, Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters

One of the largest commercial airliners, the Boeing 747, is comprised of more than six million parts. With such enormous demand for a diverse array of components, cutting-edge manufacturing operations are paramount.

With such overwhelming demand, aerospace CNC machining has emerged as one of the most extensively employed manufacturing techniques in aerospace engineering. 

Applications of CNC Machining in manufacturing aerospace components

Whether you are unfamiliar with the implementation of CNC machining in aerospace engineering, here are some crucial points that will guide you on how this machining process is doing wonders in the domain of aerospace:

Lightweight metal components

The most commonly used metals in manufacturing different aircraft are aluminum and titanium due to their immense strength. These metals dominate the industry because they are relatively lightweight than steel or any other metal. Using light metals boosts fuel economy and the overall performance of aircraft.

However, the manual machining of these metals is tedious and time-consuming. This is where CNC machinery benefits the aerospace industry by offering compatibility with an extensive variety of materials and providing seamless fabrication of these metals. 

CNC rapid prototyping 

R&D is a vital sector in any industry, and CNC machining lies at the forefront of this phase. Since CNC machines take instructions from 3D CAD models to manufacture parts, aerospace engineers can swiftly develop new prototypes, test and edit them in real-time.

CNC rapid prototyping is economical for aerospace companies as it minimises expenses by disposing of the need to invest in tooling. Besides, it facilitates aerospace companies to comply with regulatory requirements, including AS9001 and ISO 9001:2015 standards.

Complex design fabrication

The complexity of aerospace component designing is consistently on the rise. For instance, NASA’s Orion bulkhead, a component that ensures crew safety has a dome structure near the heat shield and has pockets normal to its surface.

Yet another example is the enormous sizes of the aircraft landing gears and fuselage sections that feature tiny details and demand extremely tight tolerances.

Catering to these demands requires the aid of 5-axis CNC milling machines to manufacture even the most complex parts. These machines can deliver reaches and angles that might not be feasible to attain using 3- or 4-axis machines.

AI-aided CNC machining 

The latest CNC machines in the aerospace industry feature Artificial Intelligence (AI) augmented with Machine Learning software.

This combination has allowed aerospace companies to determine accurate production metrics and seamlessly attain aerospace part production targets. It has also helped improve the quality and longevity of machined aerospace components.

High-grade precision

Aerospace industries depend on third-party manufacturers to obtain different components. These components must have tight tolerances and interlink precisely with parts from other machine shops. 

Precision CNC machining enables aerospace companies to manufacture components meticulously as specified and deliver tolerances as small as 4μm. In an industry where part failure while being in a flight is not an option, CNC machining renders unparalleled precision. 

CNC Machining in Aerospace

Aviation

Accuracy is a vital component in constructing aircraft, be it fighter jets, cargo planes, or commercial airlines. Every phase of an aircraft’s construction demands unprecedented accuracy, whether it is the innermost layer or the outer shell.

For exterior operation, the engine is the most crucial component in an aircraft, and thus, it must process and burn fuel with no leakage or component malfunctions. CNC machining helps manufacture the most intricate parts critical to the streamlined operation of the engine.

For interior components, CNC machining plays a pivotal role in designing the cockpit. Some of the tiniest interlinked parts make up the navigational system that provides directions to the pilots in real-time.

CNC machining helps manufacture these tiny CNC machining aerospace parts, which might require fine-tuning and tweaking from time to time. CNC machined parts boast extreme precision and significant endurance to rule out any odds of failure. 

Space travel

Space travel agencies such as NASA and SpaceX scrupulously design and construct the most technologically advanced rockets and spacecraft for various deep-space missions.

This is where aircraft CNC machining enters the picture. The CNC machining process is pivotal to manufacturing infinitesimal parts that tether the rocket’s body design.

Components must operate without fail and prioritise the safety of the spacecraft and its crew members. Since space travel demands no scope of errors, CNC machining has been expanding rapidly in this sector.

It is imperative that you pick an appropriate CNC lathe for your machining shop to prevent inaccuracies and deliver components that are best-in-the-business.

Final words

The aerospace industry demands state-of-the-art requirements and full compliance with industry standards. The delicacy of the utilisation of aircraft and spacecraft makes it pivotal to use high-grade components.

Besides offering extreme precision and tolerance, aerospace CNC machining is significantly more time-efficient for engineers to make edits and run tests. It is advisable to conduct thorough research before finalising a CNC machine to ensure that you get the most value for your buck.

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