How to Reduce Your Aircraft Structure Manufacturing Cycle

Today many aerospace manufacturers continue to rely on manual probes, such as Hexagon’s Leica T-Probe, to measure large and medium-sized parts such as pylons,structural frames, stringers, doors and nacelles, or winglets, fairings and wing panels. And with good reason; manual probe measurement is highly accurate. But it is also labour intensive and demands relatively high levels of operational skill. So increasingly aerospace OEMs and suppliers are turning to automated, multisensor coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), which enable manufacturers to switch easily between tactile and non-contact sensors to reduce machining cycles for larger aerostructure parts.

Welcoming automation with open arms

DEA_BRAVO_HP_D-MHexagon’s DEA DELTA SLANT gantry multisensor CMM,for example, brings high throughput, accuracy and repeatability to the inspection of large machined parts in an automated, open shop environment. Manufacturers also use the DEA BRAVO HP horizontal arm CMM for its accuracy when measuring large parts in work shop environments, with some choosing to halve inspection time by installing a BRAVO double arm CMM to measure a part simultaneously from multiple sides.

Because both CMMs are designed for versatility, our customers can use them to benefit from the inherently high throughput of non-contact sensors, in addition to tactile probes. The deployment of non-contact sensors is growing in the aerospace industry as advances in optical components and camera technology have combined with faster computing to increase the speed, flexibility and affordability of non-contact measurement, making it an ideal complement to the high accuracy of contact probes. In particular, non-contact sensors are perfect for measuring large parts such as wing spars, pylons and doors, which depend on the capture of large quantities of data.

A fresh optic on capturing data

SmallJPGBLAZE 600AAircraft Structure BlogHexagon’s Leica T-Scan 5 3D laser scanner, for example, is particularly well-suited to the rapid automated scanning of large parts and difficult to reach areas. The Hexagon BLAZE 600A automated, blue light, optical 3D measurement system, meanwhile, delivers rapid data acquisition through a combination of high-resolution digital imaging and advanced projection technologies.

In addition to being fast, the ease-of-use of non-contact sensors makes it possible for less skilled operators to capture and analyse digital measurements in 3D within demanding workshop environments, helping aerospace manufacturers overcome the industry’s metrology skills shortage. Usability is furtherenhanced by our measuring tools’ interoperability with all leading metrology and analysis software, including Hexagon’s SpatialAnalyzer. Non-contact measurement tools and software also facilitate broader automation strategies, enabling OEMs and suppliers to automatically measure large parts using an optical scanner mounted on a gantry or a robot.

Getting in line

The move to adopt optical metrology tools to reduce machining cycle times for larger aerostructure parts coincides with a wider shift within the aerospace industry towards inline measurement. The flexibility andspeed of non-contact sensors makes it possible for quality engineers to rapidly scan a large part while it is clamped within a machining centre, rather than transferring it to a dimensional centre. This results in considerable reductions to machining cycle times because operators no longer have to manually transport and reclamp a part. Doing away with the need to move large parts for measurement during machining also helps reduce flaws arising from bending during transportation, or operator error. Fewer faults means less need to rework or remanufacture large parts that turn out not to fit during assembly and cuts down on shimming.

Another key advantage of inline measurement is having immediate access to critical information about the quality of the part being machined. Working within a measurement cell on the shop floor enables operators to quickly ensure part conformance while feeding data back to the machine tool to ensure ongoingoptimisation.

The right software tools also play a key role in reducing aerostructure machining cycles. Supported by computer aided manufacturing software such as VISI, for example, operators can compare the inline measurements against the nominal values of the part they are machining. They can then draw on this information to determine and generate the correct machining trajectories.

Find out more about how you can use non-contact measurement tools to drive improvements in your aircraft structure manufacturing cycle.


  • Aziz Tahiri

    Aziz Tahiri is the Global VP for Aerospace & Defense at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. With over a decade of experience in aerospace project, marketing and innovation management, he leads Hexagon’s strategy to enable the digital transformation of the aerospace industry particularly focusing on implementing automation across the manufacturing workflow, bringing collaborative tools and user mindsets and further operational insights to Hexagon’s customers worldwide. He holds an Aerospace Mechanical and Automation Engineering degree from the Toulouse ICAM school and is dedicated to supporting the aerospace industry transitioning into a more sustainable future. He has worked for ECA Group and RECIF Technologies in several locations across the globe.

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