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WorkNC is the route for rapid manufacture at Eurocopter

Eurocopter can trace its roots back 100 years to some of the earliest experiments in helicopter flight. It operates from six locations across Europe and has achieved a turnover in 2006 of 4.9 billion euros, an increase of 40% from 2005. The Group produces a range of civil and military helicopters, and it has achieved a 52% market share in the private, corporate, and public service sectors. Worldwide, it has around 2,500 customers in 139 different countries, and has sold approximately 9,500 aircraft. "We have a duty to fulfil for each customer and our overriding aim is their satisfaction," explains Christophe Celor from the Corporate Communication & Information Department. "Customisation is an increasing requirement, so we have had to organize ourselves accordingly."

To meet these demands, the company has established four Industrial Skills Centres. Each Centre operates autonomously as a business unit but maintains links to the Central Engineering Department. The objective of each Centre is to design, manufacture and industrialize its products, which are destined for Eurocopter's civil and government sector helicopter assembly lines. Additionally, it provides customer support and administers its own planning and purchasing policies.

The Structure Industrial Skills Centre initially produced batches of finished parts. However, a change in policy resulted in these being outsourced and the Centre now concentrates on the manufacture of prototype parts; making customized non-standard parts; helicopter development; and productionising components ready for batch manufacture. The Rapid Manufacturing Department, formed to meet these new objectives, capitalized on the existing skills within Eurocopter, providing faster response to the requirements of its customers, and new concepts in the manufacture of metal and composite structural parts. The five-man team produces 65% of the moulds for composite parts, 30% of the sheet metal dies and 5% of the prototype parts for the Research and Development Department. Its top priority is rapid turnaround.

To achieve its goals, the Centre needed to find a method which would enable it to rapidly manufacture moulds for composite parts, and sheet metal dies for prototype and low volume components. Michel Labarthe, Manager of the Structure Industrial Skills Centre said, "Due to the increased customisation applied to our range of products, we had to implement resources adapted to this new requirement." In 2002, the company carried out a feasibility study, benchmarking different CAM systems and CNC machines. In particular, it was looking for a close link between the software and the machine tool; a reliable toolpath with clear collision control and display capabilities; an extensive tool library; an ergonomic and easy to use interface; and a means of reducing design times.

Extensive production tests led Eurocopter to choose WorkNC, WorkNC-CAD and a TNB CNC machine tool. Michel Labarthe said, "We reduced the time for machining a shroud from 32 hours to 4 hours 5 minutes. The figures speak for themselves. We also greatly appreciated the depth of collaboration between the machine tool manufacturer and Sescoi. During the testing period, for example, the predicted times really were the times which we achieved. This wasn't always the case for the other systems that we tested."

Eurocopter's design and modelling is completed in CATIA V4 and V5. WorkNC-CAD is used to interpret these designs and prepare the models for machining in WorkNC. Here the software automatically calculates the geometry, generates reliable toolpaths and simulates the machining. Within three weeks of the installation of WorkNC and the TNB machine tool, the company was producing its first tools. Michel Labarthe added, "Our main concern is always the same - to reduce part manufacturing lead times. This is very important to us as an assembly line stoppage is very expensive." He is delighted with the performance of WorkNC and the TNB machine. " We have achieved our objectives, halving production times on our sheet metal parts, including both the programming and machining phases."

2006 saw investment in an additional WorkNC and WorkNC-CAD system with a direct CATIA interface, together with a second TNB machine. Michel Labarthe concluded, "Our four operators work three, eight hour shifts per day. Additionally, we have implemented alert indicator methodology to enable us to monitor jobs securely and easily." With the additional equipment, the Industrial Skills Centre has achieved its rapid manufacturing target, and is now able to supply its customers with mass produced and customized parts within 15 days.

Press release issued by Sescoi UK Ltd on March 27, 2007

 

 Contact details from our directory:
Sescoi UK Ltd CIM Software, Computer-aided Design
Airbus Helicopters Airframer

 

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Design Software
Computer Integrated Manufacturing

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