Following a $3 million contract by the United States Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, one of the largest funded projects in the company’s 20-year history, machining simulation software expert Third Wave Systems (TWS) is reporting its achievements.

The project was to expand Third Wave Systems successful metalcutting solutions to polymer matrix composite (PMC) materials used on the latest warplane programmes. The Department of Defense Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF), which was designed to transition innovative technologies that resolve operational DoD challenges, allocated funds for the contract.

Developed under the RIF, Third Wave Systems software products reduced machining cycle times by predicting and managing forces and predicting composite behaviour. Engineers from Third Wave Systems successfully demonstrated improved production processes for several current warplane PMC components. The improved processes utilised in-place machining equipment, obtained greatly improved part quality and surface finish, reduced tooling costs by 27% and reduced cycle-time on milling operations by 47%.

A business case extrapolation was performed using current warplane programmes, estimating that the bottom-line savings that could be achieved using Third Wave Systems demonstrated improvements would be substantial. Using an assumption of 35% composite machining cycle-time savings (actual achieved was 47%), the business case based on average price-per-pound of final aircraft composite weight is an estimated $1,989,000 per aircraft savings (current warplanes are about 35% composite materials).

The software was used to model the machining of PMCs at the tool-workpiece level and machining was completed to validate the model outputs. Engineers also modelled PMCs at the toolpath-level and the analysis gave engineers the ability to model CNC machining operations on full part programs. Engineers were then able to predict and optimise forces and temperatures during machining and control them through feed and speed selection.

Additionally, Third Wave Systems also used its modelling technology to select cutting tool strategies to eliminate part delamination and improve quality. Working closely with Third Wave Systems throughout the two-year project were several warfighter component supplier,s including GKN Aerospace, which was the primary project partner.

Third Wave Systems developed, validated and implemented a physics-based machining model of the Cycom 5250-4 bismaleimides (BMI) composite material. Additionally, Triumph Group along with major composite machining supplier Janicki Industries worked with Third Wave Systems to perform similar activities for resin systems Cycom 977-3 and AFR-PE-4.

With approval from the Air Force program manager, Third Wave Systems also completed a brief experimentation in modelling composites drilling for a project partner’s supplier that had experienced devastating quality issues from their baseline drilling process. The drilling experiment was 100% successful for this application. While the initial results are promising, showing 56% cycle-time reduction and 100% quality improvement, more work still needs to be completed to validate the findings and incorporate composite drilling into the software. However, a major advantage is that the drilling technology will be developed using the same physics-based modelling approach. This means the development risk is low and production implementation will be efficient and require no new hardware.

* Third Wave is represented in Europe by ISBE GmBH, Germany.

** Third Wave Systems software products have impacted the joint strike fighter by affordably delivering 20% improvements in machining time for turned parts and 35 percent for milling, all while increasing tool life. More than 50 aerospace suppliers for F-35 and F135, as well as the primary suppliers, are using Production Module and/or AdvantEdge for affordability, quality and delivery on machined metal components.