John Overton of MSB comments on the need of precision engineering in Fly Corporate's Talking Heads

Friday 6th February 2015

John Overton

The owner of an executive aircraft frequently requires an element of customization in the cabin interior. While manufacturers generally offer a range of defined options, the very nature of the business results in a requirement that individual tastes or mission requirements be fulfilled. It is at this point that bespoke engineering design is required as the fit and appearance of customized components must comply with the requirements of the applicable aviation authority. These regulations dictate that precision in the engineering and in the execution of the customization is essential.

An owner's vision of the interior design may not match an OEM's offering, which can result in a completely customized, and therefore engineered, interior. Tables, seats, side ledges, dado panels, credenzas, divans, walls, doors, window shades, lavatories and galleys can all require a specific design to be engineered and implemented. Consider the impact of the latest cell phone, tablet or espresso machine that an owner may want secured in a specific location in their aircraft.  Engineering a method of securing, adjusting and making electrical connections to existing systems or structures may require modifications to the existing systems or structures. With all such modifications having potential impacts to the certified aircraft, the lack of precision and thoroughness in the engineering approach would jeopardize or delay the aircraft's entry into service. For operators, this could mean revenue loss. For individual owners, time could be the cost.

An integral role:

Precision engineers are therefore an integral part of the interior completion process. They are a unique group requiring an understanding of aerospace requirements, standards and regulations. They must know about the appropriate materials and components that can be used in aircraft and the precise tolerances that can be achieved in manufacturing parts from them. In addition, they must have the ability to undertake stress analysis, finite element analysis, reliability predictions and other engineering calculations. All of this naturally operates within a budget.

Products used in aerospace will invariably perform some mechanical role and need to function for tens of thousands of cycles without failure.  Precision engineering will ensure these mechanisms can achieve this by testing prototypes and refining the design before subjecting the product to qualification testing, which will prove that the precision engineer has done their job!

Given all that is expected of a precision engineer, it could be expensive to maintain a staff of people with all the capabilities needed. However, there are a number of ways to manage this cost. Many OEMs will use contract personnel when needed to augment their core group of engineers, and there are a large number of companies providing this invaluable service. This allows the OEMs to avoid the expense of permanent employees to cover the range of engineering expertise required for the aerospace industry.

In addition, not every designer of precision products needs to be an engineer. Many highly qualified technicians with the right training and knowledge can produce precision design, which an engineer will review and sign-off.

Of course all of this design, validation and qualification takes time, particularly if aviation authorities need to sign-off on testing protocols before the design can be put into manufacturing. The time frame can be managed effectively by following proven principles, using known materials and validating designs by testing prototypes. While the full design-build-qualify cycle can be minimised by using materials already proven acceptable for use on aircraft, this can stifle innovation. Yet the very nature of the business will always require innovative ideas and it is the precision engineering teams that will continue to take on the challenges and fulfill the owner's dreams.

By John Overton, MSB Design Director of Program Management:

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