This year NASA and Space-X made history. For the very first time, “NASA astronauts have launched from American soil in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station.”
On May 30, 2020, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“It’s difficult to put into words how proud I am of the people who got us here today,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “When I think about all of the challenges overcome – from design and testing, to paper reviews, to working from home during a pandemic and balancing family demands with this critical mission – I am simply amazed at what the NASA and SpaceX teams have accomplished together.”
Few things are as exciting as rocket launches. It’s always fascinating to hear about the exploits at the International Space Station, NASA’s latest Mars rover, and exploration of other planets. And who doesn’t love headlines such as “NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Takes a New Selfie Before Record Climb”?
But as exciting as the industry is, it’s also fraught with risk. A minor defect on land could have disastrous results in space. Thus, aerospace inspection continues to advance alongside the industry itself. Consider the feeling of a pilot in the cockpit. If she doesn’t have all of the equipment working perfectly, the flight could easily end in disaster. For this reason, it’s a highly regulated industry as well.
While aerospace depends on quality, there are a variety of ways to ensure that the products and components are fit for their purpose. Inspection technology continues to meet these demands.
According to Raj Kacker, strategic business manager at ZEISS Industrial Quality Solutions, the company is poised to take the lessons learned in the automotive industry and apply them to the aerospace world. Precision is a priority for the company, whether on the road or in the skies.
“ZEISS is a leader in bringing the precision out from what I call the Taj Mahal onto the shop floor,” Kacker says. “Accuracies which were being performed in the measuring labs can now be done where all the action is, right next to grinding and machining centers “ in a factory environment.
Aerospace customers are demanding accurate measuring systems on the shop floor, and this is now available on a wide range of shop floor system options from ZEISS.
In terms of other products, he says that customers are also looking for high speed computed tomography (CT) systems.
Though quality is important in this highly regulated field, it doesn’t mean that productivity is not also a priority—speed still plays a role in the inspection process. While CT in a lab might typically take hours, a high-speed shop floor CT system from ZEISS can take minutes and these systems can be also automated depending on the application.
With his more than 30 years of experience in the aerospace industry, Kacker says he’s always known there is huge potential for ZEISS in this very important market segment.
To determine what his aerospace customers need, he asks them a very basic question: “What are your biggest pain points?”
Often the answer relates to visual inspection.
“Aerospace being so very regulated segment, for example, every blade that goes into an engine must be manually inspected, which could be thousands a day,” he notes. To address this need, ZEISS launched a visual inspection system that can handle the task—and do it quickly. Instead of relying upon the human eye for inspection—which could accept bad parts and take minutes—the ZEISS system can accomplish the task in seconds accurately and consistently
Aerospace pain points also revolve around productivity and efficiency, he says. Customers are looking to integrate inspection systems into their manufacturing processes.
Thus, when the inspection system goes down, the whole cell goes down, which is why systems must be extremely reliable.
“Uptime needs to be 99%-plus,” Kacker says. But, since no system is infallible, service becomes very critical.
“No hardware is 100%,” Kacker says, so the important thing is “how fast can you bring the system up?” By having a service technician stationed right at the customer site, ZEISS has been able to offer immediate response
With the current situation, Kacker points out that while the commercial aircraft business is currently down, companies still need support. The workforce in many cases might have been reduced, but projects are still moving forward. This makes sense when you consider that some of these projects have extremely long lead times. Developing an engine could take 10-15 years, so this work can’t simply be shut down just because civilian air travel is down.
Looking ahead, the trends towards highly accurate shop floor inspection and increasing digitalization appear set to continue. The future may not be on Mars just yet, but the inspection technology is ready and poised to meet todays and future needs.