BAE’s new machine is best in the world – by a whisker

Posted on 16 Sep 2011 by The Manufacturer

A new best-in-class titanium cutting machine tool installed at BAE Systems’ Salmesbury plant in Lancashire can machine to one third the thickness of a human hair.

BAE Samlesbury, which assembles the Typhoon aircraft and manufactures parts for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, has installed a new StarragHeckert BTP5000, one of the most accurate machine tools in its class in the world.

The machine can mill, turn and cut titanium components over three metres long to tolerances that equate to a third the thickness of a human hair, BAE Systems says. The components are used in the manufacture of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the rear section of which is built at Samlesbury before being shipped to Lockheed Martin in America.

Precise tolerances delivered by the new machine ensure that the outer shape of the F-35 matches up to the standards needed for aircraft to meet the required ‘low observability’, i.e. stealth, performance capability demanded by the plane’s OEM Lockheed Martin.

Sitting in a temperature and humidity-controlled facility that exactly matches conditions in the final assembly at Lockheed Martin in the US, the machine is named after the long spa and longeron sections is was built to machine. The BTP5000 can machine two parts simultaneously, and at peak rate aircraft sets will be produced at the rate of one a day.

BAE Systems and StarragHeckert looked at ways to deliver a more accurate and effective machining method for long titanium parts. The machine has now been extensively tested and recently produced two components at the same time to exactly the same standard.

“Much hard work has been injected into the project from both companies since 2006 when the idea was born,” said Frank Brinken, CEO of Starrag Group. “The result is the most advanced titanium cutting machine of its kind in the world, delivered safely, on time and within budget.”

Simon Bee, head of machining operations, said: “While the story from this machine’s inception to delivering parts is significant in its own right, it’s also part of a much bigger story too. We’re at the heart of establishing new standards for assembly precision and pace on the F-35 programme. Each time visitors come to Samlesbury its immediately visible that the facility is a real step up from what they have seen before.”

The Long Spars and Longerons machine is the first of two machines to be installed in the machine shop. The second is planned to begin installation in 2014.