Precision is a word that's thrown around a lot in manufacturing. Nowhere are the requirements and challenges for precision higher than in aerospace machining.
Despite their complex geometries and often ultra-thin tolerances, parts manufactured for the aerospace industry frequently have to stand up to high stress loads and vibration levels while surviving extreme environments. These factors--and the reality that some parts could wind up hundreds of millions of miles from earth, where there are no options for repair--make the margin for error nano-thin.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that because they are used in such specialized, low-volume applications, more often than not these difficult-to-machine parts are manufactured on a just-in-time basis.
The aerospace industry is not something an operation jumps into on a whim. It takes the right combination of expertise, experience, and equipment to be successful.
Here are two companies that have built successful businesses serving the aerospace industry, and the steps they have taken to ensure that business keeps growing.
Costello and April Design
There is no margin for error when it comes to the work of Costello and April Design, an aerospace manufacturer that specializes in electronic enclosures, liquid and air-cooled compact heat exchangers, and other small- to medium-size components.
The nature of the business requires an ability to deliver precision parts reliably, handle multiple runs and set-ups--often at the same time--and the versatility to process a variety of jobs.
Founded in 1993, C/A Design provides both design engineering assistance and CNC machining/production to customers. Its Dover, NH, facility also has a full aerospace-oriented test lab and metallography lab. Its customers include many of the top defense contractors in the United States.
The majority of C/A Design's work requires tight, true position tolerancing. Much of this requirement is driven by the additive effect of the way the finished parts are used, says Bob April, one of the principals at C/A Design.
"If there are 30 components to the assembly, the tolerances stack up," April says. "If everything runs on the high side of the spec, it throws off the final unit. You have to be able to hold extremely tight tolerances in the manufacturing process to deliver a finished product that remains within spec."
Small lots, big challenges
Because most of the machining that C/A Design performs is highly...