Thursday, 13 May 2010

Piaggio Aerospace Goes for Breton - Six for Space

In order to increase its component production capacity to meet a major work order, the Ligurian company opted for the multi-functional cells manufactured in Castello di Godego.  (by Paolo Beducci)

What can you do with a company that makes airplanes on the coastline? Located on a strip of land that is better known for tourists than aeronautical enthusiasts? This was what we were asking ourselves as we followed engineer Luca Tagarelli, Manufacturing manager for Piaggio Aero Industries SpA through a labyrinth of roads and galleries and tunnels leading us through what seemed to be a maze to the building where his office is located. 

We were given our answer before we were even able to ask the question. We obviously look surprised because, as Luca Tagarelli told us, “Piaggio was incepted in 1884 by Rinaldo Piaggio to manufacture fittings for the shipbuilding industry and later for the railway industry. 
The company’s first dabble in aeronautics was in 1915, when it began manufacturing aeronautical motors, followed a decade later by the first aircraft. In actual fact they were flying boats. And this is why we are located right between the land and the sea at Finale Ligure."
Two great engineers Giovanni Pegna and Giuseppe Gabrielli joined the founder Rinaldo in leading the company’s venture in the aeronautical industry, and they were to be fundamental to the development of the company’s aeronautical engineering division.
The most noteworthy fruit of their work is the first helicopter, made according to very advanced standards and performance for its time, the first rotorcraft opening the skies to the development of the modern helicopter. 
Piaggio was also the company that spurred the branch of another Piaggio product, one that is perhaps better known and, coincidentally, was designed by an aeronautical engineer. We are talking about the Vespa and Corradino D’Ascanio who built the company’s first scooter around an engine used as a starter for large aeronautical engines. 
The destines of the Vespa and Piaggio aircraft would continue to overlap for another 20 years until 1966, when the two industrial companies split for good. The aero segment then continued its adventure with the construction of aircraft, motors and structural components. 
There were however another two fundamental moments in the history of Piaggio Aero. The first was in 1990 when, after 10 years of work, the P180 was launched, a truly extraordinary and cutting-edge airplane that is still sets the benchmark for executive aviation. 
In the month of November 1998, Rinaldo Piaggio S.p.A. was bought by a group of entrepreneurs headed by the Di Mase and Ferrari families. The company was renamed Piaggio Aero Industries and became, in just a few years, the leader in the production of executive airplanes
-Its growing success led to international interest that increased the number of shareholders of Piaggio Aero, thanks to the participation of two of the most important strategic and industrial investment groups in the world: Mubadala Development Company (a strategic investment group owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi) e Tata Limited, a British company in the Tata group. Piaggio Aero has a division that specializes in the production of engine parts, and it is headed by Tagarelli
In our business areaTagarelli told us, “we do not limit ourselves to making engine parts for our clients who manufacture aeronautical engines, but we go beyond to work with these clients also as partners to develop the product, aid design development and also contribute to the constant development that all aeronautical products undergo in the course of their life cycle on the market. In addition to our work with new products” the Manufacturing manager for Piaggio continues, “our job is also to periodically overhaul a number of aeronautical engines. These are routine control and maintenance operations required after a certain number of hours in operation.” 
Although originally this activity was started for the most part to serve the military, today things have turned around and most machining production and maintenance volume at Piaggio Aero is generated by the field of civil aviation, which has very different logistics from the military. This has brought about some major changes to operations at the company. Piaggio Aero’s machining department was recently awarded a major work order for the production of PW 200 parts.              
In fact, Piaggio produces a significant percentage of engine parts for the PW206 and PW207, assembling them in modules that then make up the engine, and delivering the product to the final client. In addition, it provides maintenance, repair and overhaul of the engines in their lifetime. “A contract of this scope for us was a real novelty that brought significant changes. In fact" Tagarelli continues, “we have always been used to small production volumes in the aeronautical field, while the PW200 family entails much larger production runs. We are not at the level of car making, this is clear, but in any case we are dealing with quantity production to all intents and purposes which also requires a higher quality and production level when it comes to equipment.

Because on the one hand we need our products to be quality certified, on the other we must be able to guarantee our client availability and output standards that are comparatively high for the aeronautical industry. To give an idea of the production leap that we are facing in order to be able to guarantee the required production, we make about one piece a month for Pratt America, while the PW200 is already an established engine and we have to produce more than 500 pieces a year."
For the PW200 Piaggio Aero series the company had to make a total of six pieces: four parts and two vanes, and to do this correctly we decided to dedicate a manufacturing cell to the specific request in order to avoid the new job order interfering with the company’s existing production).   
In addition, for the first time in our history, we decided to ask potential suppliers also to provide industrialisation of the manufacturing process. Basically, we were looking for a supplier who was best able to follow us for the long haul with regard to our operations taking productivity to the highest peak. In the past, it was common to purchase the machinery and then, once the pieces to be machined were defined, to develop the post processor and the process. In this case, on the other handTagarelli continues, “it was essential to find a true partner who was competent in these matters.” 

The open tender contract was, as mentioned above, for a turnkey solution and involved big names in the machine tool industry. These names also included Breton, a company that had already been familiar to Piaggio Aero for a decade, but which had never supplied equipment to Piaggio. “In fact, we had visited Breton when they had first entered the machine tools sector” Tagarelli tells us, “and at that time they successfully passed the tests, so we decided that at the first concrete opportunity that arose for them to supply the right type of machinery, we would put them to a solid test. 
So we went back to visit them and we realized straight away that over the decade the company had grown and consolidated its technical experience in this sector.” 
To make the parts in question, Piaggio needed to perform turning and milling operations. It decided therefore to look for a machine that could perform both turning and milling with the inevitable advantages that a single machine set-up would bring in terms of accuracy, product quality and manufacturing times. “I have to sayTagarelli goes on, “that from a technological standpoint, even with all the differences between the various machines, all the solutions proposed were worthy of our interest. 
The structure of the machine was another very important factor for us. We currently do not have an air conditioned workshop and therefore the machinery is subject to considerable changes in temperature. We were interested in identifying such changes in order to be able to compensate for seasonal changes in the machining stage. For this reason we decided, for example, to not take machinery with atypical structures into consideration.  

An additional point in Breton’s favour was the ergonomics of the machine and accessibility to the piece. I do not believe that today there is a machine tool with the characteristics of Ultrix that is more user-friendly for the operator. It should also be noted that Breton was able to perform certain grinding operations on the pieces in question, further reducing the time the piece remained in the workshop. 
A decision such as this was in many ways considered something of a gamble. In the sense that what Breton was offering was really different from what we were used to and what is more we had never had a machine made by Breton, so we did not know how their organization would do working with us. I can however say that the gamble clearly paid off.

Today, Piaggio has three Breton Ultrix installed, each equipped with five pallets, but in the coming months, when Piaggio Aero moves to the new factory it is building in Villanova d’Albenga, the number of Breton cells will rise to six for a total of 30 pallets. The Ultrix takes care of machining a family of four parts. 
One is an aluminium part, while the other three are made up of Inconel. The light alloy part is made entirely on the Breton cells, starting with the raw pieces and concluding with the part ready for assembly.

This is a tangible possibility thanks to the quality of the machine which is comparable to the quality of measuring machines, and it has made dimensional and geometric certification of the pieces directly on the machine possible.
The goal for these partsTagarelli continues, “is unattended machining that I think we will achieve soon, thanks to the multi pallet solution which moreover features a particularly compact layout with six machines set out in a semi-circle with the palletising area extremely compact despite the considerable size of the whole cell.” 
Aluminium and Inconel are materials that react differently and thus require a differentiated approach. Despite the fact that the Breton spindle, reaching 18,000 rpm, may seem more appropriate for the machining of light alloy than for Inconel, it handles the latter material confidently thanks to the high torque the spindle is able to deliver.
The last of the many elements deemed to be positive on the Breton Ultrix is the special feature of double ram. In fact, to avoid having a machine that is not perfect in turning or milling, therefore to avert critical issues of any kind even in just one of the jobs, the two operations have separate management inside the same machine: “With this solution, Breton has developed a product that offers advanced levels of performance with both machining operations.”
Thanks to Tecnologie Meccaniche magazine.
Sergio Prior


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