The aerospace industry faces an unprecedented demand for new aircraft, making it imperative to increase throughput while continuing to deliver exceptional levels of quality. Figeac Aero, a leading global aerospace parts manufacturer based in France, recently deployed a new coordinate measuring machine (CMM) from Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division that rises to the challenge by reducing inspection time by 75% while increasing measurement precision.
Figeac Aero has enjoyed spectacular growth over the last three decades. Set up in 1989 by CEO Jean-Claude Maillard, the company has grown from around 20 employees to an international group employing 3,500 people in 14 production sites in six countries around the world, including the United States. Today Figeac Aero is positioned as a European leader in sub-contracting for the aerospace sector. Recognised worldwide, the company produces a full range of small, medium, large and very large aerospace parts and sub-assemblies in aluminium and hard metals. The company invests continuously in cutting edge technology to retain its lead in a demanding and competitive environment.
Frederic Moncet, 3D Process Manager says: “Our customers are asking us to produce increasingly complex parts with higher tolerances at the right price, and within deadline.”
The main challenge is to measure medium, large and very large parts (over 14m) while increasing the levels of precision and reliability and maximising automation.
“With the new DELTA OPERA CMM Figeac Aero we’re able to reduce inspection time by up to 75% and ensure autonomous operations more than 50% of the time,” explains Mr. Moncet.
“This allows Figeac Aero to improve performance by reducing production costs and working capital requirements, improving on time delivery quality and accuracy. This raises the profitability of existing contracts and better positions Figeac Aero to win new contracts in a highly competitive market,” explains Mr. Moncet.
Figeac Aero had been using a seven-metre long bridge CMM which didn’t attain a sufficiently high level of performance. The size and architecture of the company’s previous CMM meant parts longer than 7m had to be measured in two steps. As a result, it took up to 20 hours to inspect a large part. The company wanted to reduce inspection time to eight hours and in 2016 sought solutions from a number of potential CMM suppliers, including Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division.
Figeac Aero initially considered alternatives to a CMM, before concluding they would not deliver the desired levels of accuracy. It also looked at standard gantry CMMs already available on the market, which provided high enough levels of speed and accuracy, but came with side structures and pillars that risked obstructing the loading of parts and therefore diminishing productivity gains.
Frederic Moncet, who directed the project within Figeac Aero and worked directly with experts from the Hexagon factory located in Turin, explains that the DEA DELTA OPERA combines the mechanical advantages of both bridge and gantry CMM structures to enable the loading of large parts from the side as well as the front.
“The DELTA OPERA, which is 20m long and perfectly fulfils the required specifications, is an exceptional CMM.”
It is also faster and more accurate than the specification laid out by Figeac Aerospace, providing an impressive mix of speed, precision and repeatability for a such a large volume CMM (20 m long, 4 m wide and a 2 m vertical measuring range) to ensure a high quality inspection at a better cost of critical aerospace parts.
“I collaborated closely with Hexagon’s engineers on adapting the CMM to Figeac Aero’s needs, including developing, installing and calibrating the machine. The result is the largest gantry CMM in its class ever produced,” says Mr. Moncet. “The machine is unique on the marketplace.”
While the machine was being constructed at Turin, Mr. Moncet collaborated with building engineers on the design of the foundations of the measurement floor and the results of vibration analysis, as well as studies of air conditioning, lighting and the lay-out of the measurement room. He then supervised the construction work, validating a number of steps with Hexagon’s engineers.
It presents exceptional performance in terms of speed, acceleration and accuracy for a machine of this size
When it came to software, Figeac Aero chose Metrolog X4/SILMA X4, which they were already using in-house. Metrologic Group worked with Hexagon to develop the interface that makes it possible to pilot the DEA DELTA BRIGANT via Hexagon’s latest generation of controllers, the DC800, going with Figeac Aero to Hexagon’s factory in Turin to undertake initial tests.
“The resulting CMM has reduced inspection time by 75% and runs 24/7 with only three operators – which means it operates 50% of the time in complete autonomy,” explained Mr. Moncet.
Crucially, the installation will meet the company’s future requirements. From the outset Mr. Moncet sought a machine that could evolve, which is why he requested a double-carriage gantry design.
“We are very satisfied,” said Mr. Moncet. “It presents exceptional performance in terms of speed, acceleration and accuracy for a machine of this size. Before it took 20 hours to measure a 14-metre part. Now we can measure it in 5 hours and automatically measure batches of medium-sized parts. It was an enormous challenge for everyone, and Hexagon’s support and training has proven to be up to the task.”