Long-term customer contracts are a lofty goal for every contract manufacturer. At Shapes Precision Mfg. (SPM), that goal is being achieved by a strong new management team
utilizing new fabricating processes initiated by a skilled workforce.
“Our team has created a solutions-oriented manufacturing environment with a deep understanding of aerospace materials,” says Paul Sesta, SPM’s general manager. “We’re committed to long-term agreements with leading customers who want to partner by providing single-source capabilities to produce complex assembles. This requires a committed management team utilizing the latest technology along with motivated and skilled workers.
“The qualification process for earning multiple-year contracts is arduous whether in aerospace, energy, military or any other industry,” he adds. “SPM is accomplishing this and has a backlog of contracts going out to 2025. We are sustaining the highest sales now in the company’s 30-year history. This is made possible with our reorganized management team and the addition of innovative technology like our newly acquired second Prima Power Laserdyne system, the Laserdyne 430 with BeamDirector.”
Expanding to aerospace
Expansions into long-term aerospace contracts began with a new management team and continued as the company made substantial capital investments in equipment and the right people. An extra focus on training its workforce in new technology and processes aided in the overall strategy.
“We acquired machining centers with multi-axis, high-speed, tight-tolerance, large-workpiece machining capability and fiber laser machining capabilities,” Sesta explains. “We added new equipment to perform 5-axis waterjet, TIG/MIG welding, resistance welding, bending, rolling, piercing, punching and forming.”
Sesta created the new management group and is now leading the expanded manufacturing and training capabilities. He has 34 years of experience in the manufacture of hot-section parts for jet engines utilizing a variety of Laserdyne systems from early Nd:YAG laser to state-of-the-art fiber laser technology – making him the right man for the job.
Sesta, however, isn’t flying solo in this endeavor. The team includes Mike Dozer, quality manager; Joey Sesta, operations manager; Rick McGahee, facilities manager; Michael Grantham, head of laser programming and non-conventional machining; and Rob Kissiday, the lead laser, EDM and waterjet technician. The combined background in complex laser processing in aerospace turbine engine components and related technologies became key to securing multiple Tier One customers.
As a supplier of turbine engine components, a deep knowledge of processing aerospace materials is essential. That is one of the key attributes Sesta brought to the company and which he believes is important for its future growth.
The company processes many aerospace materials, including Inconel, Hastelloy, titanium, stainless steel and aluminum, among many others. Key to many of these fabrication processes is the company’s Laserdyne multi-axis fiber laser systems, particularly its recently acquired Laserdyne 430 system with BeamDirector. The addition of that system, along with its existing Laserdyne 795 system, opened the door to long-term engine component contracts.
Through SPM’s transition, long-term business relationships were developed with a world-recognized OEM along with sub-tier commercial aviation and defense suppliers that included Parker-Hannifin, Safran, Defense Logistics Agency, Pratt and Whitney, GE aviation and Textron.
“With our previous aerospace work experience, the opportunity for precision engine component fabrication presented itself,” Sesta says. “Engine hot section fabrication was a natural progression, and our experience with aerospace materials using the Laserdyne 430 system was a key part of our qualification process.”
The specific process approval for SPM took almost a year where the company processed and submitted “test coupons” to prove its quality at trimming hot part sections and
drilling precision cooling holes at precisely set angles in the complex parts.
“Basically, we bought the 430 for our aerospace OEM program as part of our proposal to obtain that type of work long term,” Sesta notes.
A key feature of the new machine is its unique capability for drilling cylindrical and shaped holes as well as bevel cutting in a wide range of materials, particularly the specified aerospace materials of titanium and Inconel.
The Laserdyne 430 system is equipped with a 15,000-W QCW (quasi continuous wave) fiber laser and S94P controller that provides required peak power for drilling applications and pulsed or continuous output for cutting applications. Combining higher velocity and acceleration, the third-generation BeamDirector provides C-axis (rotary) motion of 900 degrees and D-axis (tilt) motion of 300 degrees.
BeamDirector also features improved accuracy and repeatability, higher assist gas airflow, adjustable mirrors for easy and accurate beam alignment, and a cassette-mounted lens and cover slides for quick, accurate changeover. The robust design and improved motion control allow Laserdyne systems to maintain accuracy and repeatability specifications at all assist gas pressures up to 20 bar (300 psi).
“We are drilling shallow angle holes at high speed, and the machine’s straightforward operation allows us to change from drilling to cutting to welding without having to tune the laser or wait for it to warm up as with Nd:YAG lasers,” Sesta says. “Parts range from about 1 in. to up to 20 in. in diameter for stainless alloys, aviation aluminums and high-strength steels.”
At SPM, speeds with the Laserdyne 430 are 50 percent faster than with a YAG system. The company is meeting dimensional requirements within 0.001 in. and experiencing minimum to no microcracks in the heat-effected zone. The machine is running 21 hours a day with less than 1 percent downtime.
“What’s really efficient when using the Laserdyne 795 and Laserdyne 430 together is that while the 430 is ideal for smaller parts and the 795 for larger parts, each machine can handle the other machine’s parts within the shared size range for added capacity and flexibility,” Sesta explains. “Having that second laser system ensures risk mitigation and lessens the possibility of being out of production.”
Taking it offline
Another innovation for SPM’s laser operations is its use of Laserdyne’s new FastTrim software, an all-in-one software for the Laserdyne 430 and Laserdyne 795 systems. It enables the engineers to model parts, define process paths, define feature locations and build part fixtures offline. Operators can easily post a complete program for 2-D and 3-D laser welding, drilling and cutting applications.
“For any part, its fixture and the machine are all modeled in the FastTrim software,” Sesta says. “We see clearances, travel and beam strike issues as we generate the tool path. We can make needed adjustments to the post before the program goes to the shop floor for offline verification. We can quickly and intuitively ‘lead and lag’ the laser and change between the rotary table or BeamDirector to anticipate 5-axis changes or access a challenging geometry.”
The software also provides the ability to modify tool paths through sheet offsets, cutter offsets and axis translations with collision protection.
“The new Laserdyne 430 was a revelation for the productivity improvements it allowed,” Sesta says. “It provides greater opportunity for more technological advancement going forward. The added laser processing capabilities are an important part of our capabilities resulting in enhanced customer support, improved performance and business growth.”
In addition to its new equipment and commitment to high-quality work, customers come to SPM for its specialized expertise in the precision machining, welding and fabrication of complex, high-precision component parts, assemblies and tooling for a variety of industries. The company is certified to ISO 9001:2015 and AS9100D and is NADCAP-accredited for welding and non-destructive testing.
SPM’s diverse set of capabilities allows it to act as a single-source supplier for customers. The company can fully control the quality of all products because manufacturing capabilities do not need to be outsourced. This allows better management of lead times while working with customers on design-for-manufacturability and design-for-cost strategies.
Today, SPM is converting aspirational ideologies into operational realities with a clear focus on supporting customers’ needs for timely deliveries of products and services while meeting the industry’s highest quality standards. This is accomplished with a highly skilled, experienced and motivated workforce. It is also achieved by integrating manufacturing technologies and by building and maintaining systems and processes that add value for customers.