How Airframe Manufacture Has Benefited From Wireless Ballbar System

CNC machine tools may lose their positioning accuracy over time. When not regularly inspected and serviced, various errors can result. Aerospace giant BAE Systems relies on a Renishaw wireless ballbar system to collect machine tool diagnostics data. With preventive and predictive maintenance, the system helps optimize quality and productivity when milling expensive, complex airframe components.

Case Study: BAE Systems

Accuracy and uniformity are essential for today’s aircraft airframes. Machining metals and composites for aircraft parts require consistent quality and dependability.

Aerospace and defense giant BAE Systems produces airframe components for the Eurofighter Typhoon. Since its introduction in 2003, this agile plane has seen action in many air forces around the globe.

At Samlesbury Aerodrome in Blackburn, UK, BAE Systems uses CNC machines to produce Typhoon airframe components. Roughly 80 CNC machines are in use in the facility.

Consistent quality, minimal material wastage, and maximum manufacturing efficiency are achievable through the regular upkeep of 5-axis machine tool performance.

CNC inspections, including calibration and preventative maintenance resources, are essential. Previously, BAE Systems used the QC10 Ballbar diagnostic tool from Renishaw. However, BAE Systems recently opted for more modern Renishaw technology, the QC20-W, due to its superior adaptability and support.

The QC20-W Ballbar

A CNC router’s interpolation should follow the same path as the one programmed into the router. The QC20-W ballbar checks for errors by contrasting real and planned paths.

An accurate linear transducer lies between the magnetic cups of the table and the spindle of the telescoping ballbar. Since the machine tool moves in a specific circle, the ballbar can detect even the tiniest deviations from that path.

Using this information, one can calculate positional accuracy, which conforms to international norms and Renishaw’s standard analysis reports.

The Challenge of Balancing Upkeep and Efficiency

Without regular upkeep, even the finest machine tools will gradually lose their once-impeccable positional accuracy. Problems can arise from aging, accidents, defects in installation, and even the ambient temperature.

To find a flaw once mass production begins is quite costly. Airframes manufactured by BAE Systems, for instance, feature several titanium parts. Titanium is a rare and expensive metal, and reserving supplies can be complex.

Producing a complex titanium part could take up to 40 hours. It can lower machinery efficiency, and predictive maintenance times can lengthen if scrap production slows down. It’s expensive to make mistakes that waste materials and machine time.

Establishing a Wireless Ballbar System

To address this, BAE Systems uses the QC20-W Ballbar system to conduct predictive maintenance diagnostics on its machines. It is a facility-wide program that involves 60 CNC machines.

Based on a comprehensive analysis of diagnostic data patterns across all machines, BAE Systems has developed a go/no-go error margin standard. Operators further investigate if the CNC circularity error is more than 30 micrometers. Those with ballbar training could use QC20-W for diagnostics without impacting production.

The engineers also have determined that a ratio of 1:15 between ballbar test kits and CNC machine tools is ideal. This allows the annual calibration of a single ballbar without interrupting the inspection of the remaining ballbars. Engineers had to first install the QC20-W ballbar on other machines to diagnose and repair the problematic machine tool.

System Benefits

The QC20-W system allowed BAE Systems to manufacture high-quality airframe components in a fast and timely manner.

The improved diagnostics has allowed the company to cut material waste and increase productivity. Operators could also foresee future tool failures by identifying their root causes.

Fast diagnostics of machine malfunctions are now available through preventive and predictive maintenance at BAE Systems. The number of breakdowns has decreased, and there’s a reduced need for technical support.

Incorporating Renishaw ballbar diagnostics into their workshops increased productivity and QA compliance for BAE Systems.

Get Renishaw Technology From a Trusted Source

If you’re looking for a similar solution for your systems, contact Maintenance Diagnostic Systems Inc today. One of the leading predictive maintenance companies in the U.S., MDS provides technology and services from Renishaw. Contact us today for more information.