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How Air Bearings Benefit the Aerospace Industry

How Air Bearings Benefit the Aerospace Industry

Individual cutting raw carbon fiber Here at New Way Air Bearings®, we’re no strangers to pushing the limits of precision to help enhance your manufacturing, inspection. and production capabilities. Now, we’re turning our eyes towards the aerospace sector. The aerospace industry is poised for numerous revolutions as we continue into the 21st century. From private space launch firms and the potential return of supersonic flight to the development of 6th generation multirole fighters and hypersonic defense systems, the aerospace industry requires the utmost in precision motion systems.

Porous Media™ air bearings provide significant benefits to aeronautic production, from increased straightness for fiber laying to high speed additive manufacturing and hysteresis free inspection systems. Meanwhile in astronautics, frictionless motion through Porous Media enables the development of friction-free, zero-gravity testing stages for the development of satellite thrusters and automated control laws.

Composite Manufacturing

The global market for aerospace grade composites is currently valued at 29.7 billion USD and is expected to reach 5.6 billion by 2027. This is especially ture manufacturers become more comfortable with larger composite structures, like Boeing’s fully composite wing on the 777X.

While composite materials are often lighter and stronger than metal when used for the correct applications, they are also more delicate. Brittle instead of ductile, they require precise manufacturing strategies—like fiber laying robots—to ensure the finished product can hold up to flight stresses.

For any dynamic system moving along an XY platen and negotiating 3D space, air bearings offer an order of magnitude increase for straightness of motion and positioning accuracy. Friction-free motion means zero hysteresis error, and lateral motion error on the order of 2 microns per meter.

The production of composites materials is likewise a high precision process, and roll-to-roll processes often fall victim to contact induced defects on the manufactured materials. This too can be solved with Air Turns™, a non contact roll-to-roll solution, offering variable web tension, 180 degree wrap angle, and high-heat operating conditions.

Additive Manufacturing

 Coordinate measuring probe evaluating a part

The same benefits which Porous Media bearings offer to the production of composites are likewise applicable to additive manufacturing in aerospace. 3D printing is already in use by Airbus, Bell, General Electric and Lockheed Martin to produce end-use ready, dynamic components, which offer performance gains at a cost savings.

Contact bearings inherently limit the precision of printers, and demands are becoming ever more stringent as use cases expand. This is where air bearings come into play. Frictionless Motion™ has the capability to help additive manufacturing move below the already stringent +/-0.01mm tolerancing of SLS printing. Our bearings are only limited by the precision of the encoder, as they aren’t limited by the positioning, acceleration and unwanted motion encountered by contact solutions.

Quality Control and Tolerancing

The first application for our Porous Media bearing pucks was in the use of Checkmate Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMM)’s. As tolerances become tighter and tighter for modern aircraft and spacecraft, the need to ensure that your measuring equipment itself is appropriately accurate becomes even more paramount.

As such, air bearings offer the most reliable foundation for coordinate measuring and metrology solutions. The ISARA 400 CMM by IBS Precision Engineering offers an industry leading resolution of 1.6nm. This is thanks to flat round air bearings, and similar bearings can easily be retrofitted into existing systems without the need for costly rebuilds.

Satellite Testing

 Engineers working on a satellite

Satellite development is a long, costly process. For satellites which are expected to maintain and adjust their own delta v, this requires the inclusion of adjustment thrusters and control laws to guide them. It is understandably difficult to develop and validate such systems on the ground, but the frictionless operation of Porous Media bearings can mitigate such difficulties.

New Way already has experience in this field, thanks to our partnership with Guidance Dynamic Corporation. GNC developed a floating robotic testbed built on our flat round air bearings, which allows for perfect weight distribution and frictionless motion over an epoxy surface. Low volumetric flow through our bearings, high load-bearing capability and ability to run on different gasses (in this case CO2) made them the ideal choice, and demonstrates their capabilities for a growing satellite market.

Contact Us

If you want to learn more about how air bearings can be used in the aerospace market, or already have an application in mind, please reach out to us!

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