Phantom Works Scares Up 73% Cost Reduction



Boeing Phantom Works in St. Louis, Missouri, is dedicated to finding better, faster, and less expensive ways to design, develop, manufacture, test, operate, and support current and future systems. As part of this effort, Phantom Works has made industry breakthroughs in the areas of high-speed machining, producing large, single-piece structures that are lighter and stronger than their multi-piece counterparts, as well as faster and less expensive to produce.

With high-speed machining techniques, it is possible to mill large, thin-walled aircraft structures from one piece of solid aluminum—monolithic parts—rather than by the assembly of several smaller sub-components. High-speed machining (HSM) can make a large impact on the design and fabrication of aerospace parts, and HSM techniques have been used to improve the quality of conventionally machined parts as well.


The future of high-speed machining became very bright with the development of horizontal machining centers like the Makino A-Series. This allows all part manufacturers—from giants like Boeing to the small job shops—to implement good HSM techniques. This improved understanding throughout the industry will help to drive the machine tool builders and tool manufacturers to improve their products and produce faster, more reliable, more accurate, and longer lasting machines and tools. With these improvements come bigger, more accurate, monolithic machined parts, and ultimately faster, better, and less costly aircraft and components.

High-speed machining can be implemented by understanding the basic machining process and knowing how to control the tool/machine dynamics (vibrations). The underlying physics of HSM make it comprehensible, as well as relatively easy to implement into a shop floor environment. HSM does require a philosophy change from conventional machining techniques. One of the big first steps in implementing high-speed machining techniques is accepting change. Once HSM processes are implemented onto a shop floor, and once the philosophies of HSM are respected, then the benefits can be tremendous. The next step is to acquire quality machines that can do the job, such as Makino.


According to Adam Schaut of Boeing Phantom Works, one component of the Boeing F/A-18E/F tactical fighter that was manufactured using the HSM method versus conventional methods resulted in nearly one pound being cut from the weight, amounting to a 73 percent reduction in total part cost. This particular component formerly consisted of 44 individual pieces of sheet metal, took 53 tools to construct, and required 978 hours in design and fabrication with an additional 50 hours of hand assembly. Using the HSM method, it now requires only 5.3 hours for hand assembly.

Schaut says the speed brake for the Boeing F-15E fighter plane formerly required the manufacture and assembly of 483 composite parts, eight machined parts, and seven honeycomb parts. Through the implementation of high-speed machining processes, the part count has been reduced to only three. The fasteners required for assembly have been reduced from 372 to just 20, and the number of tools and part fixtures needed dropped from 438 to just six.

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