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Breathing fire into manufacturing?

Chinese Dragon
Posted 30th Jan 2012 by Chris in engineering, manufacturing, chinese zodiac, civil aviation, interim report 2012

Last week heralded a new Chinese year, which in the Shengxiào (Chinese Zodiac) is represented this year by the Dragon, a creature which is believed in many parts of Asia to bring fortune and power.  In the same week we also released our financial results for the first six months of our current trading year, and whilst our statement was announced without fireworks and dancing, we did make our own predictions for the future.

In his statement that accompanied the financial results, our Chairman and Chief Executive, Sir David McMurtry, included the following comments:

“The outlook for continuing global investment for production systems in automotive, civil aviation, agriculture and energy (including oil, gas and renewables) looks increasingly favourable. Furthermore, we anticipate a recovery in the important electronics sector. The Group is well-positioned to benefit from these structural growth trends as they should result in increasing demand for Renishaw’s systems and products. Following restructuring within the healthcare business, we anticipate an improved performance going forward. We therefore remain focused on positioning the Group for further growth and view the future with great confidence.”

Civil aviation is a particularly interesting sector right now and when recently asked to make a forecast for technology developments in the aerospace industry, Marc Saunders, our Director of UK Sales, and Chair of the Technical Fellows Board of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, UK, said:

“With the continuing growth in the demand for civil aircraft, fuelled by the ever growing middle-classes in countries such as China and India, the future certainly looks bright for the sector. However, whilst there are opportunities, there are also emerging competitive threats to the Western primes, which together with economic uncertainties, means that all have a clear focus on economic sustainability.

The key drivers that we see are therefore a desire to increase manufacturing productivity, to reduce re-processing operations, improve quality, and incorporate more automation to create the possibility of ‘green button’ lights-out part production.

Responding to these trends, in recent years we have been positioning Renishaw as much more of a ‘solutions provider’ that is able to supply a full process control capability, rather than being merely a supplier of discrete measurement component products. Based on our own experiences as a manufacturer, we have been able to develop a manufacturing model that has interested many large aerospace companies, developing stable repeatable processes based on well maintained machinery and fully integrated on-machine process control, and off-line measurement systems designed to handle the rapid inspection of complex parts.

A good example of the application of the latter technology is gas turbine production, where the constant imperative to improve fuel efficiency is driving aero engine makers to focus closely on the precise shape of air flow surfaces.  Leading and trailing edge forms, the positioning of neighbouring blades and vanes, and the blends between blade and root surfaces are especially critical to engine performance.  This is driving manufacturers to gather more information about the aerofoil and root features, which are often produced in a series of forming and machining operations.  Here our REVO® 5-axis scanning technology for co-ordinate measuring machines has found a powerful niche, typically reducing aerofoil inspection times by 80% - 90% through high speed, continuous profile scanning.

Another area where we see increasing interest is that of metal-based additive manufacturing processes, due to the potential to minimise component weight and therefore total lifetime costs of aircraft operation. Through acquisition we have recently become a supplier of such technologies and we are witnessing a strong drive within Universities and larger businesses to research additive technologies and applications, including new powders and alloys. There is the potential to manufacture in one set-up a complete functional part, rather than an assembly of individual components, and the technology is already being investigated for the manufacture of flight system components such as fuel delivery systems and valves, with galleries and intricate internal features where weight is important.”

Whatever your industry and whatever calendar you follow, we hope that your year also looks as promising as that of our own.

(Image courtesy of Eva Heinsbroek, Bergen, The Netherlands)