3/1/2004 | 3 MINUTE READ

Rockets Are On The Way Up

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The atmosphere at a recent German Machine Tool Association’s (VDW) press conference at the Munich, Germany, headquarters of European Aerospace and Defense Systems (EADS) Space Transportation was optimistic. The occasion was the launch of the VDW’s second German machine tool show, METAV Süd (METAV South) in Munich, and the re-branding of the Düsseldorf METAV show as METAV Nord (METAV North). The shows are scheduled for April 27-30 and June 15-19, respectively.

The managing director of the VDW, Helmut von Monschaw, presented figures indicating the Chinese machine tool market and growing markets in Russia, Eastern Europe and South Korea have compensated for the decline in the United States and Western Europe. This German machine tool export trend is expected to continue in 2004 and 2005.

For years, the United States was the biggest overseas consumer of German-built machine tools until 2003, when China overtook the United States. U.S. machine shops consumed some $345 million in German machine tools in the first three quarters of 2003, which was down 17 percent when compared with the same period in 2002. The Chinese, meanwhile, upped their demand in this period by 41 percent to $481 million. The Germans produced $10.4 billion in machine tools in 2003, and the VDW forecasts a 4 percent increase for 2004.

In contrast, the Germans do not buy much from the United States, purchasing $87.5 million in the first three-quarters of 2003, down 25 percent. The Chinese do not even figure among Germany’s top ten machine tool suppliers. Switzerland is the top supplier to Germany, and Japan is number two.

As for trends, Mr. Monschaw highlighted dry and damp machining, hard working (machining of pre-hardened steels), machine tool turnkey system packages, graphical tool data interchange and software systems for tool-to-job identification.

On the second day of the event, we got to see how EADS makes its rocket motors. Dr. Axel Reich, director of EADS Drives and Ancillaries, gave us the lowdown about how the motors are made and why the company wants to save costs.

EADS combines the rocket ship expertise of French, German and Russian scientists. There is growing competition from China, Japan and the United States in putting satellites into orbit.

Dr. Reich said the drive at EADS is to reduce costs and leadtimes. Although more machining work is coming the way of job shops, these rocket engine builders want their machined Inconels and titanium alloy components, such as cryogenic valves and pumps in Inconel 718, much quicker than before.

EADS has its own new machine shop. If you think you have long machining cycles, how about 500 hours to slot mill cooling channels on the periphery of a forged CuAgZr alloy combustion chamber? Dr. Reich and his team want to develop high speed milling. But currently, the chambers are slot-milled on German SHW machining centers with a vertical turning facility. The chambers are turned internally and externally before slot milling. The complex top and bottom combustion chamber head assemblies, which circulate the coolant and perform fuel injection, are machined in a Starrag-Heckert Super Constellation ZT800.

There was also a host of smaller machining centers and CNC millers from Deckel-Maho and Hermle. Among the facing lathes from Ravensburg and turning centers from Okuma Howa and Weiler was a new Star SV-32 sliding head automatic to machine small components used in the engines. EADS’ shop would give job shops an idea of the machines needed to join the lucrative but competitive commercial space industry.

Dr. Reich said EADS has to halve its manufacturing costs and set price targets to remain competitive, while at the same time increasing its rocket payload capacities. Pressure will be applied to job shops, too, because EADS subcontracts 50 percent of its machining jobs.