Flexium+68 and Rafale combat aircraft

Although the commercial successes of the Falcon aircraft are undeniable, the Rafale has just recently won several export victories confirming, if any proof was needed, its performance and high technical nature. While these successes are of course welcomed, by the manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, realizing them while providing their customers with the expected quality within the agreed time also impose industrialization constraints.

The Dassault facility in Biarritz has been an integral part of this challenge; this factory with its rich history - created by Pierre-Georges Latécoère, one of the pioneers of aviation - specializes in the manufacturing of composite parts combining titanium and carbon fiber as well as the assembly of complex structures. For its part, the Fives group, over the course of more than two hundred years of history, has signed some superb technical innovations such as the first steam locomotives or the elevators of the Eiffel Tower. Represented in more than a hundred countries, Fives took over another well-known player in the field of aeronautics, Forest-Liné, who started more than 60 years ago by fabricating aircraft propeller production machinery as well as developing expertise in the field of five-axis machining. Concerning NUM, it is a long time partner of Dassault and Fives.

Following the philosophy of active cooperation at NUM, these three conducted a joint project around a Forest-Liné V-Star, one of the jewels of Fives Machining, which combines speed, flexibility and high dynamic precision. This high speed milling machine dedicated to the machining of large aerospace parts is comprised of five-axis machining including a gantry. The longitudinal axis is propelled up to a speed of 60 m/min by four linear motors coupled two by two; it encompasses two secure work areas, each with its own tool magazine and that can be used alternately or merged. Ten EtherCAT stations of more than 90 I/O modules, a tool measuring bench, two tool breakage controllers, an RFID chip reader and of course integrated security complete the machine that is controlled by a Flexium+ 68 which in in combination with the NUM-DriveX  servo-controls, demonstrated its ability to pilot such configurations.

Some ergonomic and security details. The installation includes three FS192i type panels, each with a 19’’ screen oriented vertically to display simultaneously the machine control GUI and a virtual touch panel. Two of these panels, each aided by an MP05 machine operator panel, are assigned to their respective working area. They are both completely independent but only one at a time will be able to control the machine. The third FS192i panel is dedicated to the management of the two tool magazines so as to ensure loading and unloading jointly with the measuring bench; it is completely independent of the other two and equipped with all required safety.

The management of the device was developed according to the desires of Dassault Aviation. It provides the use of devices equipped with a chip with up to 45 settings. Without going into more confidential details, these settings control the equivalent tools but also feeds and spindle speeds, tolerance stacks, types of irrigation etc. All these data are displayed on pages developed to the specifications of Dassault. A group of pages is dedicated to the visualization and modification of data, another to loading and unloading tools.

A modern machine is inconceivable without an integrated security system. Flexium proposes a complete solution, drives included, based on the FSoE (Functional Safety over EtherCAT) protocol. This solution marries performance, simplicity and economy. Indeed, the machine and security terminals are distributed according to the needs of the I/O bus that combines standard features and security features. The security of the drives, SAMX, is connected along the EtherCAT bus by a single RJ45 connection and the entire configuration is programmed with the help of Flexium Tools software.

The notion of partnership is very important for NUM; Mr. Leroy, the business manager at Fives, commented: “Given the technical challenges of this project, we chose to directly approach the manufacturer of the CN selected by the customer. This mode of operation, with an automated systems component and external CN, is new to us and allowed us to re-evaluate certain practices and to formalize exchanges that are usually done internally. This choice paid off as NUM has worked as a true partner throughout the project. We particularly appreciated the involvement and responsiveness of the teams at NUM, who allowed us to take our customer’s specifications into account, all while respecting deadlines.”

The ultimate goal is of course to bring satisfaction to the end user, listen to the views of Mr. Holtzmann in charge of this case at Dassault: “Our primary objective in choosing Flexium+ has been to ensure the sustainability of our investment by choosing a product compatible with our already established machining programs. Of course we also wanted to take advantage of the latest performance improvements and advanced techniques. We had requirements especially in regard to safety and ergonomics. The teams at NUM showed great skill and care in the realization of this project, they have proven to be ready to listen and offer good advice whenever decisions were to be made.”

As noted by Elia Barsanti (Managing Director of NUM France): “The motto of NUM, ‘offer machine manufacturers solutions to enable them to develop a competitive advantage’, is fully illustrated in this project. Using the latest technology developed by NUM and their effective implementation can drive this machine, in the best conditions, to be used to produce among the most advanced of aircraft components.”