Pilatus Aircraft factories have re-established the machining of large components: Since October 2016, medium-sized aluminium structural components with a length of between 750 and 4,000 mm are being machined in a highly-automated manner by a Starrag Group flexible manufacturing system (FMS) including two ECOSPEED F machining centres. Production capacity has been increased by about a third.
Final assembly hall at the Pilatus Aircraft factory in Stans, Central Switzerland: You experience the wonder of flying much more here than when you're sitting in an "ordinary" passenger aeroplane. Here there are the newest models of the PC-12, a single-engine multi-purpose aircraft which has sold more than 1,500 units, some examples of the highly-modern PC-21 training plane and three prototypes of the twin-engine PC-24 Business Jet. These were certified in 2017 and 80 orders have already been received for them: it's hard not to grab the joystick yourself and take off.
It’s no wonder that Pilatus has conquered different niche markets with these relatively small aircraft. Because they impress with their high quality, individual equipment and performance characteristics, as well as the multiple award-winning worldwide customer service. With around a 65 % share of sales, Asia is the largest sales market for the Swiss company, followed by America with 23 % and Europe with 8 %.
For years, turnover and orders have been increasing continually and now the PC-24, known as the Super Versatile Jet, has reached market maturity, production capacity requirements will reach a new high. Since neither available space nor staff numbers can be increased indefinitely, those in charge chose to breathe new life into the machining of large parts and therefore achieve additional capacity.
After all the new business jet, like all other Pilatus aircraft, consists of numerous aluminium structural components from nose to tail fin and wing tips. "Machining them is one of our core competencies," explains Walter Duss, Head of Mechanical Production. “As they have a wall thickness of only 1.2 millimetres at times, they are extremely delicate. This is not the case for all aircraft manufacturers. Machining efficiency is therefore usually well over 90 %.”
To increase productivity in this knowledge-intensive core segment, a flexible manufacturing system had to be installed for components between 750 mm and 4,000 mm in size, which enabled a largely automated production process. Other important points in the specification were the ability to retool during machining time using a work buffer in the pallet magazine, as well as a generally reduced retooling requirement in order to economically handle Pilatus’ range of over 200 parts in this size category.