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March 2007 edition

New fluid cell tooling designs bring change to the economics of aerospace sheet metal parts production

By Graham Beaumont, Agon Consultancy

Since the 1960s aerospace manufacturers, including Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Cessna, TAI, Embraer and others, have successfully used fluid cell (or "bladder") presses to precisely form a wide range of aluminium and other sheet metal components. Today, however, a growing number of these parts are being outsourced to supply chain vendors who are unfamiliar with fluid cell pressing, and therefore do not fully comprehend the economic value of investing in this technology.

This paper examines recent advancements, primarily in tooling, that will enable tier one, two and three suppliers to profitably incorporate this flexible forming ("Flexforming") process into their operations. Cost reductions (compared to conventional mechanical pressing) can be achieved through single hit pressing of multiple parts with little or no rework, precise forming to tighter tolerances, much lower tool costs, shorter part lead times, and the ability to design and produce complex shapes that would be prohibitively expensive with conventional presses. These same benefits may well persuade OEMs with existing Flexform presses to reconsider their outsourcing strategy and optimise their in-house utilisation of this technology.

Changing dynamics in the aerospace industry

There is little question that the demand for commercial, private and military aircraft is extremely robust, and will be through the ne....

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