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Ensuring 100% accuracy at Quickstep

Precision metrology software helps Australian aerospace manufacturer to maximise its efficiency

Posted on 25 Mar 2019 and read 1373 times
Ensuring 100% accuracy at QuickstepThe combination of NC-Checker and NC-PerfectPart precision metrology software from MSP is helping Quickstep Technologies — the largest independent aerospace-grade advanced composites manufacturer in Australia — to produce 100% accurate parts and significantly reduce its costs, scrap parts and manufacturing times.

The software is also being used by other companies in the aerospace sector, as well as those in Formula One, defence and other advanced manufacturing sectors.

Quickstep Technologies — located in Bankstown, New South Wales — and supports its customers by providing complex composite parts and assemblies for ‘build to print’ applications, making use of conventional autoclave-based manufacturing and leading proprietary out-of-autoclave production techniques — including its patented QURE process.

The company also undertakes the design, development and manufacture of complex engineered products.

Quickstep Technologies’ customers include Northrop Grumman, for which it is an approved supplier for the international F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The company is also the global supplier of composite wing flaps to Lockheed Martin for the military C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ and commercial LM-100J transport aircraft contracts (recently extended to 2024).

It also works closely with BAE Systems and Boeing Defense.

The JSF program requires the supply of high-precision composite parts that need a high degree of high-precision five-
axis machining — specifically five-axis work.

Quickstep 1The nature of these parts means that consistency, qualification, documentation and traceability were pre-requisites for this contract; moreover, both Quickstep Technologies and its customer had to be confident that the equipment and processes ‘could deliver the job’.

At its ‘state of the art’ aerospace manufacturing facility, Quickstep Technologies introduced NC-Checker and NC-PerfectPart from Alnwick-based Metrology Software Products (MSP — www.metsoftpro.com) to monitor the accuracy and capability of its five-axis machining. This also enabled the aerospace company to qualify its Breton five-axis machining centres.

The implementation of MSP’s NC-PerfectPart and NC-Checker software (supported by leading probing technology) provides the detailed information required to ensure that machines stay within specified parameters; it also improves set-up times when machining complex free-form parts.

Operating sequence

NC-Checker first carries out a calibration check on the probe, followed by a five-axis check of the machine tool’s accuracy.

Quickstep 2This produces a benchmark report that shows the manufacturer whether its machine is capable of machining parts to tolerance. The software provides detailed results in a comprehensive report that shows precisely where the machine may be under-performing.

This check takes minutes to complete, which means that it can be run on a regular basis to provide routine monitoring of the machine’s geometry.

The parts being produced by Quickstep Technologies are complex free-form shapes, so work-holding is a major issue when using traditional manufacturing methods.

Each part has a dedicated composite vacuum fixture with three or four fixed-location Tooling Spheres; the centre point of each sphere is known relative to the part geometry, and this information is then used to locate the fixture or part in a suitable work-offset co-ordinate system for machining.

Before using NC-PerfectPart, these datums were generated using standard cycles within the Siemens control; and while this achieved acceptable results, the process was time-consuming and open to human error.

NC-PerfectPart fully automates this process and eliminates any human error — and it removes the need to precisely position the part, saving significant set-up time.

Quickstep Technologies’ manager Kris Dokka said: “The initial results of using NC-PerfectPart and NC-Checker came as bit of a surprise, as we could now fully automate our datum setting and verification processes — and reduce set-up time by 50% per part when compared with our previous method.

“Customising a program within NC-PerfectPart also resulted in a considerable reduction of re-work on surface profile inaccuracies.

“Indeed, we achieved a 75% reduction in this re-work last year and are aiming to do even better this year.”

Mr Dokka added: “With the ease of use of the software, we now have a scheduled fortnightly ‘benchmark execution’ routine; we also undertake a complete benchmark routine if there is an untoward incident on any of the machines, to determine if any changes have occurred in the geometric accuracies”

Mr Dokka said: “Assessing the machine using our old methods could take anywhere between two and four days to complete; even then, we couldn’t easily generate readable documentation of the results to be used for further analysis.

Quickstep 4With NC-Checker, in conjunction with the use of a Renishaw RMP600 radio probe, we have greatly simplified the procedure.

As a result, we can now complete this check in 1-2hr — a saving of up to 96% that frees up valuable
machine time and improves productivity.

“Furthermore, the data that we can now generate — along with the history that we are building — means that we can plot trends. This in turn helps us with critical decision making regarding periodic machine maintenance schedules and alignment activities.”

In addition to being able to quickly qualify the geometric accuracy of a machine, NC-Checker also gives the user confidence that the machine is performing exactly as it is expected to in terms of positioning of the
axes, which is particularly relevant in five-axis working.

“As the software is used prior to any machining, it provides us with assurance about our processes, and we can see if the machine is still capable of producing parts to the required geometric tolerances.

Part analysis can also be conducted before any cutting, eliminating uncertainty and possible costly re-work and/or scrap.

Quickstep 5Without this ability to map the machine tool with NC-Checker — and qualify the accurate position of the component in the machine with NC-PerfectPart — it is almost impossible to guarantee a perfect part without significant
time and cost implications.

“Introducing NC-Checker and NC-PerfectPart means that our customers have increased confidence, thanks to the transparency of documents that confirm the ‘health’ of our machines and their accuracy; and because most customers use the same methodologies that we now do, it makes communication about these matters easy — and the automation of our part set-up means we are achieving a time saving of 50%, while the customisation of part alignment is achieving a 75% reduction in re-work.

“We are also gaining real-time knowledge of the geometric accuracy of our machines in 1-2hr rather than three to four days, freeing up valuable machine time.”