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by Mary Scianna

Quebec aerospace centre focuses on productivity solutions for SMEs

Montreal boasts the third largest aerospace manufacturing cluster in the world, employing more than 40,000 people in manufacturing and research and development. So it’s not surprising the area is also home to the world’s largest aerospace technical school, École National D’Aérotechnique, with a fleet of 34 aircraft and five hangars. The 300,000 sq ft educational institution houses the non-profit Centre technologique en aérospatiale (CTA), a 30,000 sq ft research and development centre formed in 1993 and supported by the Quebec Ministry of Education, the Quebec Ministry of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and aerospace manufacturing companies such as Bombardier and Heroux Devtek.

“We’re part of a network in Quebec that gives access to expertise in aerospace machining,” explains Pascal Desilets, CTA’s general manager. “Our goal is to help companies increase productivity through the use of technology.”

CTA’s efforts are focused on four main subjects: machining, composites, inspection and avionics. Running on a budget of $3.5 million, the Centre employs more than 50 people and conducts, on average, 100 R&D projects (at the Centre and off site at customers’ facilities) per year. To date, the centre has 42 customers, including 25 SMEs representing the key OEMs and suppliers in the aerospace manufacturing industry.

The Centre’s researchers are involved with a number of OEMs, such as Bell Helicopter and Bombardier.

“We are a link between university applied research and industry,” explains Desilets. “In many cases, we learn new technologies at the academic level and we use this knowledge and make it adaptable to industry. For us, the fun part is to have something new introduced into the industry.”

An example of a recent development is an all-composites structure designed for geological exploration. “It’s designed to be placed beneath a helicopter; it’s a large circle, about 11 meters and you simply attach it to the helicopter,” explains Desilets.

Researchers at the centre are also exploring recycling options for end-of-life aircraft. The centre has a Bombardier CRJ 100 regional aircraft. Researchers plan to cut it into pieces and explore how much of the aircraft can be recycled.

“We’re also working on putting a muffler on small aircraft to minimize the noise for airplanes such as the Cessna 172. Everyone who lives or works near small airports complain of noise and we’re looking at ways to reduce the noise at a low cost for aircraft manufacturers,” says Desilets.

Testing Aerospace Parts
“Aerospace manufacturers and suppliers have good equipment, but one of the issues that we’ve discovered is often they don’t take advantage of the technology,” says CTA’s general manager Pascal Desilets. “We see it with probing systems on machines and with CMMs. There are a lot of automation features with these technologies and yet often we see them being used manually. If you don’t automate, you’re losing time and money. The industry needs to have more expertise in inspection and testing.”

Part of the Centre’s mandate is to help train manufacturers on manufacturing technologies, including inspection and testing. 

“We help companies to implement techniques and best practices in high performance machining such as for probing and CMMs. We conducted some projects with a local OEM to analyze the weight of a part. The same part was inspected by eight different CMM operators and they had eight solutions; we’re looking to standardize inspection.”

At the heart of the Centre is the equipment it uses to measure, inspect and test products for its R&D projects. CTA houses one of the largest CMMs in a research centre, says Desilets, a Mitutoyo Crysta-Apex C 163011, designed for measuring large workpieces.

“It’s a good machine and we purchased it in part because we already had other Mitutoyo machines [a laser scanner, scanning probe with a rotary table for fourth axis simultaneous scanning, and a linear height gauge]. Mitutoyo is a good partner to help us with future development. We also selected the equipment because many people use Mitutoyo technology in this industry,” says Desilets.

The CMM is equipped with a rotary table and Renishaw’s Revo five axis measuring head and probe system. The probe features a patented tip-sensing technology, Renscan5, that allows sensing to be very close to the surface being measured for better accuracy. The tip-sensing probe heads only require a single tip calibration to be accurate at all angles of rotation, saving time in the set-up routine.

CTA also uses Mitutoyo's non-contact line laser probe, SurfaceMeasure, which automatically adjusts to workpiece surface characteristics, and Mitutoyo's SP25M compact scanning probe, a multi-functional device that performs scanning and point measurement, and data collection from a centering point measurement.

In addition to the Renisahw probes, CTA houses a robot equipped with a m&h probe.SMT

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