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Using cnc machining for high precision parts in the aerospace industry

Using CNC Machining to Achieve Better Part Performance in the Aerospace Industry

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With renewed investment in defense and military aerospace, a growing demand for commercial aircraft, and emerging markets in the space exploration and commercial space industry, aerospace manufacturing is once again on the upswing.

Although manufacturing technologies like additive manufacturing has seen increasing popularity, the aerospace sector is still heavily reliant on CNC machining when it comes to aerospace manufacturing.


What is CNC Machining?

CNC Machining is a computerized manufacturing process whereby machine-driven cutting tools create parts through subtractive machining technology. CAM software is used to program tool paths and to generate the G-code that controls CNC machines like mills, routers, lathes, and wire EDMs. What is so significant about this process? Due to the automated processes, there is little room for human error.


CNC Machining in the Aerospace and Aviation Industry


Consider an average Boeing 777 (made up of 3 million individual parts) that flies 3,500 hours a year over the course of a 30-year lifetime. That’s a lot of fuel and a great reliance on quality parts for the aircraft to withstand the harsh flight conditions.


How CNC machining is being used in the aerospace industry to achieve better performance

CNC machining has played a crucial role in the aerospace industry for years. We’ll go through the various different ways in which CNC has been used to achieve better performance in the aerospace industry.


1. Fabricating lightweight metals (and carbon fiber)

The lighter the aircraft, the more fuel-efficient the aircraft is, and therefore, more cost-efficient. For this reason, although considered strong, metals such as steel are not ideal for aircraft and shuttle components. Strong and lightweight metal like titanium and aluminium alloys are ideal in the aerospace industry.


Precision CNC machined parts and prototypes for an electric aviation aircraft

Precision lightweight aircraft components made at HLH Rapid


  • Titanium is stronger and 45% lighter than steel. It also boasts excellent resistance to corrosion and have the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, making it a good choice for longevity and consistency of performance. A popular aerospace-grade titanium is Ti6Al4V, sometimes known as Grade 5 or TC4.
  • Aluminium is suited for a wide range of aerospace components. Despite being only about half as strong as titanium, its greater weight-saving aspect makes it more cost-effective and a popular choice in the industry. A common grade of aluminium for aerospace is Al7075-T6.
  • Carbon Fiber is also increasingly found in aerospace components due to its lightweight nature, high strength-to-weight ratio and resistance to fatigue. CNC is excellent for achieving flat high precision carbon fiber parts.


2. Parts from high performance plastics

CNC machinery is also compatible with plastics. Although metal components boast more applications in an aircraft’s functional structures, many interior components such as wall panels, ventilation ducts, aircraft doors, bearings, and more are made from plastics—specifically, high-performance plastics. They are lightweight, robust, and meet aerospace fire retardant regulations. These aerospace-grade plastics include PEEK and other high-performance polymers.


3. Forming complex models and geometries

Why are complex designs and precision valued in the aerospace industry? It can help shed unnecessary weight without comprising quality or performance, it can lead to optimised performance, or provide cost efficiency and ensure compliance with regulatory standards.



Although 3 and 4-axis CNC machines offer a level of precision that is sufficient for many aircraft components, in instances where a greater complexity or precision is required, 5-axis milling machines are available. It allows parts to be machined, drilled, and maneuvered simultaneously along the X, Y, Z, and linear axes without the need to rearrange or refix the component.


4. Building high precision parts

High precision machining enables aircraft parts to be manufactured meticulously as specified and delivered on tight tolerances. As mentioned, with CNC machining, there is little room for human error. In an industry where part failure while being in the air is not an option, CNC machining is the solution. Precision machining is not just vital in the making of end-use aircraft components but also in aerospace R&D.


Using cnc machining for high precision parts in the aerospace industry


5. Rapid prototyping

When thinking of rapid prototyping solutions, 3D printing often first comes to mind; however, many aren’t aware that CNC machining is an ideal one-off prototyping solution, especially for metal aerospace components. It’s fast, dimensionally accurate and perfect for making strong mechanical parts that need to be fully functional and have precise tolerances. In an R&D intensive industry, CNC is salient to efficiently and swiftly prototype new component designs, test them, and, if necessary, make changes.


Aerospace CNC Machining with HLH Rapid

Leading aerospace companies use our CNC machining services for rapid prototyping and end-use production of flightworthy components with high-precision tolerances. Learn how aerospace engineers and designers are using HLH Rapid’s rapid manufacturing services.

To start your rapid project with us, submit your CAD drawings and project details on our site contact form, and our team will get back with a quote within 24 hours.

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