The global aerospace industry is a hotbed of design and manufacturing innovation, with millions and millions of complex metal parts produced yearly.
An essential tool at the aerospace industry’s disposal is CNC machining. Aerospace machining leads to advanced aircraft parts made from lightweight metals like titanium and aluminum, while machining is also a valuable prototyping tool for aerospace R&D departments.
Aerospace machining covers a range of applications too. Whether it’s commercial aircraft, military vehicles, or even space travel, CNC machining has a considerable role in developing and producing precision aerospace components.
This article serves as an overview of how CNC machining is used in the aerospace industry. It looks at aerospace CNC machining applications, aerospace machining materials, and more.
What is aerospace?
Aerospace is a highly diverse industry comprising many sub-sectors, covering everything from commercial aviation to space exploration.
Aerospace manufacturing involves the production of parts for commercial, industrial, and military clients, with governments being some of the biggest contractors in the industry.
Due to the vast number of aerospace sub-sectors and the vast number of applications and products within those sub-sectors, aerospace requires a broad range of manufacturing technologies, from traditional techniques like casting and welding to cutting-edge technologies like metal additive manufacturing. Aerospace CNC machining sits between those two extremes, a highly established technology offering advanced design and material possibilities.
What is aerospace machining?
Machining is the manufacturing process of removing sections of material from a workpiece using machine-operated cutting tools. And CNC machining is a digital version of machining: computers control motorized cutting tools to rapidly and precisely form new parts.
Aerospace CNC machining goes back almost to the invention of CNC machining itself in 1942. One of the earliest applications of aerospace CNC machining was the production of bulkheads and wing skins. Today, many aerospace parts can be machined, such as transmissions, landing gear, and electrical components. Machining might also be used to repair or modify existing parts, add detailed features, or add engraved textual information such as serial numbers.
Since many aerospace machining jobs involve producing critical end-use components, precision machining is required with high-quality 5-axis machining centers. Certain parts — jet engine components, for example — may require tolerances as tight as 4 microns, far closer than what is typically acceptable during CNC machining.
Aerospace machining is also a basic form of prototyping during research and development. CNC machines are suitable for prototyping metal aerospace parts that will later be manufactured using casting or other techniques.
Aerospace CNC machining is a necessary procedure that leaves no room for error. Where some industries allow for loose tolerances and material variations, aerospace demands total precision and consistency to guarantee human safety.
No industry worldwide uses more titanium alloy than aerospace. It’s easy to see why this is so: the metal has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, resists corrosion, and performs to a high standard at extreme temperatures. Titanium has become a staple material in aerospace production, and its use will increase further over the next century.
Titanium aerospace parts include airframe and jet engine components, such as discs, blades, shafts, and casings. Many of these can be machined.