Thayer Aerospace Gets Competitive

High-Speed Machining and Computerized Technology Help Drive Out Costs

After a quick visit to Thayer Aerospace’s Web site, the manufacturer’s mission becomes clear: “More reliable delivery. Lower overall costs. Perfect quality, first time, every time.”

Although a lofty goal, Thayer Aerospace has taken appropriate steps to realize its mission. Founded in 1997 and headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, Thayer Aerospace is a leading manufacturer of complex structural components and assemblies for the commercial aerospace, defense and space industries.

The company offers comprehensive, advanced precision machining, kitting and full-service metals processing capabilities. Thayer manufactures complex five-axis components, as well as airframe gear and spline work for large aerospace companies. In 1999, Thayer won a competitive contract to kit pressurized doors for Vought Aircraft Industries for the 737. Thayer President Bill Remy explains that because of the cost competitive nature of the contract, Thayer needed to invest in high-speed machining.

“High-speed machining gives you a big competitive advantage and a cost advantage that you can’t match with conventional machines,” Remy says. “For machining aluminum aircraft components, high-speed machining is the only way to compete. It is the only way shops can remain competitive down the road.”

It was clear to Remy and Thayer that high-speed machining was essential to not only meet customer demands, but to also survive in the highly competitive aerospace market. Thayer turned to Makino.

Thayer Production Undergoes Overhaul, Enters HSM Market

In early 1999, Thayer Aerospace introduced a Makino A77 horizontal machine center into its operations. After several weeks of researching the high-speed machining market, Thayer selected Makino machines for their reliability and cost-saving performance, Remy says.

“When you look at the value that Makino machines bring to the table, in terms of cost-per-machining hour, it looks good from a total cost perspective,” he adds.

Thayer used the A77 to train its professional machinists on high-speed machining. Thayer then added more Makino horizontal machine centers to its operations. “When we won the Vought program, we knew that the only way to make those parts and to be efficient, given the high volume of aluminum components, was to add more high-speed equipment,” Remy explains.

To complement its A77 with an 18,000 rpm spindle, Thayer added four new Makino machines: three A55Es with 14,000-rpm spindles and an A88 with a 12,000-rpm spindle. The Makino machines were brought on to exclusively machine 737 structural parts. “We run these high-speed machines very aggressively,” Remy explains. “They have provided us tremendous value.”

In late 2001, Thayer added a Makino Machining Complex with the Model B2 Software Cell Controller to the A55E bank of machines to allow them to run unattended. The cell controller provides programming characteristics to maximize Thayer’s production output. Concurrently, it effectively monitors multi-machine production requirements.

To educate Thayer associates on the cell controller process, Makino held training sessions at its headquarters north of Cincinnati, Ohio. The training helped Thayer understand the process and helped make the transformation in the plant almost seamless. “The training was very good,” Remy says. “It helped us understand what we needed to do.”

Reaping the Benefits of High-Speed Machining

With the Makino high-speed machines on board, Thayer has seen its entire operations improve significantly. The Makino upgrade has allowed Thayer to refine product quality, reduce waste and decrease inventory levels.

“Our quality performance has improved dramatically,” Remy says. “We typically see scrap rates down around a quarter of a percent or less. But we have some applications that have been running for nine months now and have not scrapped a part yet.”

By mapping a value stream through its Makino process, Remy says Thayer has been able to streamline its inventory. Thayer has transformed its inventory process into a just-in-time model, ordering raw material so that it “comes in pre-cut, ready-to-go, less than 24 hours before it hits the machine,” Remy says. “This has cut our lot sizes down to one or two weeks of supply. Based on our programs, we are seeing 15 to 20 turns a year in inventory.”

In addition, Thayer has been able to dramatically improve on its production process through the elimination of setups. Remy says that the Makino machines are “repeatable enough and tight enough” to finish boring on the machines down to five-tenths. He explains that in the past conventional machines couldn’t hold those tolerances, so they had separate boring operations.

While the physical characteristics of the machines have improved production, the synergistic function of the Makino operation increased Thayer’s productivity by as much as 400 percent. The addition of the cell controller to the A55E machines has significantly reduced machine downtime. Prior to implementing the cell controller, Thayer could only run six to 10 pallets at a time. “With the added MMC technology with the B2 controller, we now run more than 25 jobs through the cell,” Remy says. “Combine that with cutting lot sizes, and the typical job only stays in our system through one shift.”

“The Makino machines have taken away set-ups, they have reduced time and costs and we’re able to complete the process in one step,” Remy says.

Reducing time is key in cutting costs from projects. And when dealing with strict deadlines, timesaving features on the Makino high-speed machines allow for breathing room for making critical changes.

Remy provides an example. “We produce a cam plate that goes inside the forward entry door. This cam plate helps actuate the door, as you turn the handle, and allows it to open and close. While we were in production, we got a call from the customer alerting us to a potential problem: the cam’s mechanisms appeared to hang up or drag in a couple of places. It wasn’t the smooth, continuous flow they wanted.

“So, in essence, we went back to the drawing board. We looked at our data and were able to massage the CAD information very quickly. We shipped a test product to the customer overnight, got their feedback and were then able to tweak it a little more.

“It took us less than three hours to produce another part, massage the CAD data, re-post it, produce another part and have it available to the client for feedback,” says Remy. “Without Makino technology on the A77 and A88, that would have taken much longer because we would have had to set that up and run it through a conventional machining process. This way, we were able to work with our customers to solve the issue and end up with a much improved product.”

Envisioning a Brighter Future

As Thayer Aerospace looks to the future, Makino plays a big role. “We will probably expand our steel and titanium cutting, which would involve the new MC98,” Remy says.

“In just a few months of using this piece of equipment it has proven to be a tremendous piece of machinery,” Remy says. “We have seen significant cycle time reductions, upwards of 30 percent. There’s growth in that area, and we’ll meet it head on with the MC98.”

After the tragic events of September 11, the aerospace industry’s short-term outlook seemed unsteady. However, Thayer Aerospace has remained solid. “We’ve seen all of the rates fall off, just as everyone else in the industry has,” Remy says. “But, we have not seen some of the general aviation rates fall off much. We’ve been fortunate enough to win some opportunities and it looks like we could have a good year in 2002.

“We attribute a tremendous amount of our success to adding the Makino machines,” Remy says. “They have taken us to a different level than we were at three years ago. We are now able to think about doing new work with new methods every time we see a package to quote.”

Reflecting back over the past two years, Remy finds it hard to grasp all of the changes that Thayer has undergone.

“We’ve acquired a tremendous amount of knowledge in terms of how hard we can push through the material,” he says. “With the harmonic balancing and optimization, we’ve learned what styles of cutter work best. With machine rigidity, vibration control and dampening features and the vibration monitoring software, Makino machines have allowed us to become more efficient. They have helped ensure quality operations and have eliminated a significant amount of waste.”