In a Q&A session, Composites in Manufacturing hears the latest news from Ascent Aerospace on the company’s large-scale additive manufacturing (LSAM) capabilities and HyVarC tooling solutions.
Founded in 2012 when American Industrial Partners acquired three US aerospace manufacturers: Coast Composites, Global Tooling Systems (GTS) and Odyssey Industries, Ascent Aerospace, a provider of layup tooling for composite aerostructures is championing its HyVarC, Hybrid Invar and Composite mould tooling. The company’s HyVarC layup tooling offers a cost-effective, lightweight, short lead-time solution for prototype and development applications.
Q) Firstly, give me a feel for the size, scope and lead-times of the pattern & mould work you do?
As one of the largest aerospace tooling manufacturers worldwide, we continue to provide patterns and moulds for all use cases and size ranges within the industry, including commercial, defence, and space applications. Our work in both the commercial space and eVTOL segments of the market has also been a strong point of the last few years, as we have been successful in leveraging our heritage tooling capabilities to support their increased needs.
From a size standpoint, we can fabricate tool strings for everything from access panels and control surfaces to wing skins and fuselage barrels for large commercial programmes. The larger moulds, such as those for the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X programmes can take up to one year to fabricate and weigh over 40 tonnes.
Q) What are the types of performance demands placed on your company by today’s customers?
We always approach our customers with the foundation of price, quality, and delivery to develop a successful relationship. But every year does bring new challenges and new approaches to continue strengthening those ties. Recently, we have seen an increased demand for speed and flexibility related to new and developing programmes.
New customers like the eVTOL companies in Europe and the US want to move very quickly from design to flight and are willing to be creative in those pursuits. We have learned to adapt our response to these programmes to best match their pace, requirements, and budgets.
Q) Tell me more about the kinds of CNC machining centre equipment you use to manufacture your products?
All our CNC machining centres support our tooling business. We currently have the largest set of machining centres dedicated to aerospace tooling in the US, with over 30 high-speed, high-velocity machines between our California and Michigan operations.
Q) Is there a particular success story you can briefly talk about?
One of our most successful programmes this year is a great example of how we can utilise our capacity and scale to rapidly respond to our customers’ needs. We recently completed a 40+ tool programme in under five months, progressing from design to fabrication and delivery by collaboratively working with the customer. We started by engaging early and often; learning what was most important for the programme, understanding where the challenges could be, and proactively planning for those challenges.
By spreading fabrication across five of our main manufacturing facilities, we were able to keep the entire programme ahead of schedule and manage shifts in priority as our customer enhanced their own manufacturing process. Not only did we utilise multiple sites, we also leveraged our unique capability with 3D printed tooling to provide LSAM trim tools and holding fixtures as part of the package.
This type of programme is an excellent example of our value proposition and the benefit we hope to provide all our customers. Early engagement, design and engineering support, rapid fabrication, and excellent quality are what we strive for every day.
Q) What are the main focus areas of your current R&D efforts?
All our key product offerings have some form of ongoing development and innovation, from new materials with LSAM 3D printing to the launch of our Power Drive Unit at the Automate 2022 show last summer. One specific area of R&D at our Santa Ana facility is in the area of self-heated tooling.
Over the last few years, we have seen increased market interested in out-of-autoclave curing and self-heated tooling. During the last year we have worked with Veelo Technologies to develop novel methods of self-heating mould tools, including our patented HyVarC hybrid mould. We partnered with Veelo at the CAMX event in California in October 2022 to showcase this new technology. Some key benefits of this solution include reduced operating footprint, faster processing times and lower processing costs. We look forward to working with Veelo Technologies on further developing this technology throughout 2023.
Q) What kind of industry landscape are we faced with now everything is getting back to normal?
Bill Bigot, senior vice-president of sales & marketing states: “We are beginning to see a strong recovery across all our sectors - from commercial and defence aerospace to the space industry. The new mix of work we are seeing is challenging yet exciting and we look forward to working with our customers to define new solutions for tooling and automation.”
Q) Finally, what differentiates your company from the competition and why should a customer use you over your nearest rival?
The foundation of our value proposition to customers is built upon our heritage tooling sites. Coast, Odyssey, and GTS all come together with broad coverage in every aspect of aerospace tooling. We can leverage that expertise, allowing us to provide the right solution for the right problem and give our customers excellent quality work products from each one of our facilities.
We have a proven track record building everything from simple moulds to complex assembly jigs with automation and unmatched capacity and flexibility at our fabrication sites. At the same time, we can utilise the knowledge base of each facility to develop new products and react quickly to new requirements. We have a great team that can listen to the market and adapt to new trends while balancing our innovative developments with proven solutions.