Ramping up blisk production
GF Machining Solutions GmbH is a division of Georg Fischer AG and a global leading provider of machines to the tool- and moldmaking industry, as well as to precision parts manufacturers. The term “solutions” is not just part of the name—it’s a dictum.
05.2016 | Text: Thorsten Rienth
Thorsten Rienth writes as a freelance journalist for AEROREPORT. In addition to the aerospace industry, his technical writing focuses on rail traffic and the transportation industry.
In the end they must all be exactly the same: absolutely identical high-speed milling machines. Every installed pipe, every screw, every circuit board, every small engine—right down to the software. “We rely on absolutely accurate reproducibility,” explains Walter Sürth. “Only machines that are exactly the same in construction will also produce exactly the same results.” The director of blisk production for MTU Aero Engines in Munich is fastidious. With good reason—after all, he’s dealing with tolerances to within an accuracy of a few hundredths of a millimeter.
A single machine for all applications
His milling machines are not only required to produce exactly the same results every time. They have to do so at high speed and with a high degree of reliability. The blisks are used above all in Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower® PW1000G family of engines with Geared Turbofan™ (GTF) technology. And blisk production is being massively ramped up: until recently, MTU was producing around 600 of these components each year; by the end of 2016, production capability is set to increase to 3,500.
The Mikron HPM 800U milling machines manufactured by GF Machining Solutions represent a kind of life insurance for the ramp-up. “Machines of this type are capable of producing all blisks for the GTF programs on a single unit. Normally you need a specially adapted machine for each separate application,” Sürth points out.
It is these characteristics that make the Mikron HPM 800U the most technically advanced machine in GFMS’s portfolio. Although portfolio isn’t really the right term. “The machines have been adapted to the specific demands of blisk production at MTU,” explains Michel Eder, GF Machining Solutions’ key account manager for MTU. Components are automatically allocated to the milling processing centers without restricting access for the operator—an ideal connection to the automatic loading system at the blisk production center in Munich.
GFMS delivered the first Mikron HPM 800U to the production facility at the end of 2011. In total, 24 units are being successively supplied, tested and finally put into industrial operation. The machine pool should be complete—and the production center operating at full capacity—by the end of 2016. Until then at least, Eder will continue to commute between Schorndorf and Munich to assist in the industrialization of the machines.
The first parts to be produced on the machines are already in the air. The PW1100G-JM engine powers the Airbus A320neo, which Deutsche Lufthansa put into scheduled service at the start of the year. Derivatives of the engine are currently undergoing flight testing on the Bombardier CSeries—also scheduled to enter regular service this year—as well as on the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ). Embraer’s second-generation E-Jets and the MS-21 from the Russian manufacturer Irkut will also be powered by the PW1000G and are in the midst of development.
Power station The Mikron HPM 800U milling machines provided by GF Machining Solutions can be adapted to the machining requirements of many different types of component. They enable all blisks employed in the GTF engines to be manufactured on a single unit.
Living manufacturing solutions
GF Machining Solutions is one of three divisions of the Swiss industrial group Georg Fischer AG. According to the latest figures, the division’s approximately 3,000 employees generated annual sales of around 900 million euros at 50 sites worldwide. The company describes itself as a global leading provider of machines to the tool- and moldmaking industry, as well as to precision parts manufacturers.
The Swiss company develops and manufactures the necessary electric discharge machines, high-speed and high-performance milling machines, and 3D laser surface texturing machines. It also supplies everything else required to operate the machinery, such as spare and wear parts, consumables such as wires, electrodes, filters, and graphite. And—of course—automation solutions. “We don’t just have ‘solutions’ as part of our name; we also live these solutions on a day-to-day basis,” says CEO Heiko Benz. “We see ourselves as more than a supplier of machines. For us, the focus is on providing solutions.”
This approach has earned the Swiss company a place in the production facilities of nearly every big name in the manufacturing industry. At BMW’s tooling and moldmaking center, for instance, two GFMS milling processing centers have been in continuous operation since the beginning of 2012. Fitted with pallet magazines, tool changers and zero-point clamping systems, the centers outsource non-productive processes, such as set-up and clamping procedures or tool adjusting, from main time to parallel units. A second example is Otto Klumpp GmbH. This family-run business, based in the southwest of Germany, sells injection-molded plastic products and injection molding tools. The company recently commissioned a fully automatic and autonomous linear cell assembly. A linear robot connects a milling machine with an EDM machine in the cell, controlled by shared CellManager software. The company operates the facility in a three-shift rotation; two of the shifts run automatically, without an operator.
Blisk Blade Integrated Disk
Blisk is an abbreviation for “blade integrated disk”. The components are used in the form of stages in state-of-the-art low- and high-pressure compressors. Instead of attaching the blades to the disk, blisks are integrally manufactured by milling them from a single blank. This manufacturing method reduces the weight of the parts and increases their stability. However, due to the increased complexity it also makes them significantly more challenging to produce. In the future, the construction may also be put to use in turbine stages.
For some time now, GF Machining Solutions has focused on more than pure and simple machine production. “Our ambition is to play a pioneering role in the development of innovative products and solutions,” says CEO Benz. Take electrical discharge machining, for example. This technology makes it possible to machine electrically conductive materials of any hardness and with the highest surface qualities.
The company recently launched its “rConnect” system, a central communications platform for milling, EDM and laser texturing. Behind this is a remote analysis system for the machine tool industry. This gives manufacturers the option of authorized remote assistance provided by the respective GF Division plants. The key ideas here are the smart factory, connected industry (also known as industry 4.0) and minimum machine downtimes. And of course, here too, maximum customization is an important criterion.
Specialized demands call for specialized machines
At MTU Aero Engines, this not only concerns seamless integration of the machines and the loading system. “The aviation industry has to comply with very strict documentation requirements for the individual stages in the manufacturing process,” key account manager Eder explains. The same applies to safety requirements and the running times of the machines—which, he adds, are utilized almost to the very last minute. “We have an agreed running time of 6,000 working hours per machine and year,” which corresponds to 250 days’ continuous operation. “This is a promise we made good on.”