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North Carolina Manufacturer Reduces Set Up and Changeover Times for Small Systems That Help Keep Big Birds Flying

When you think about Boeing's new "Dreamliner" 787, what comes to mind? We"ll bet you don't think hydraulic systems, linear hydraulic actuators, rotary pumps and motors. But they're definitely on the minds of the folks at Triumph Actuation Systems, especially after they've found a new machine to grind out more profit from these parts.

The Boeing 787 "Dreamliner". This one plane has more Triumph systems than any other.



Triumph Actuations Systems opened its Clemmons, North Carolina facility in 1989. It's 130,000 sq. ft and employs 230. Its main product lines are linear hydraulic actuators, solenoid and manually operated hydraulic valves, hydraulic systems, rotary pumps and motors and variable and fixed displacement axial piston pumps and motors. Triumph's customers? Just about everyone in commercial and military aircraft (Boeing, Airbus, Grumman, Bell, Sikorsky, Piper, etc.).

Triumph rotary pump for the A320



"When I joined Triumph," says William Burke, CNC Programmer/Manufacturing Engineer, "we were all about hydraulic systems and linear hydraulic actuators, rotary pumps and motors. Then we acquired the Honeywell line -- more and completely different hydraulic pumps and motors. This was entirely new work for us and required a learning curve, an increase in capacity and technology, and investment in additional personnel to retain the balance between our traditional actuation systems and the newly acquired hydraulic pumps and motors. We were at the time (1990s) about 80% commercial and 20% military. When the original company started (1942) the mix was 80% military and 20% commercial (WWII, and the Nazis were busy spreading horror and sorrow throughout Europe, completely unaware that B24 Bombers were rolling off the assembly line at the Ford Willow Run plant at a clip of 55 per minute). Today, we're about 50% commercial and 50% military."

The Lockheed Martin Hercules transport aircraft



Examples of Triumph's linear systems can be found on the Boeing 737 (and much of the rest of the Boeing fleet) and are actuators for the cowl or nacelle. These open and close the doors for access to the engine compartment. These actuators have a cylinder, a hydraulic reservoir and body with a piston that extends and locks. They also have a bearing at one end so the system can pivot as it extends.

There are also similar systems for opening and closing cargo doors. Think of the huge C17 and C130 cargo planes with the very large, heavy rear cargo doors. Triumph makes the actuation systems that open and close those doors, plus locks them.

Triumph linear cowl door actuator for the 737



There are also actuation systems that operate the nose gear and landing gear -- opening and closing the nose gear and the landing gear doors while lowering and raising the actual nose gear and landing gear. Triumph builds these systems, sells them to Boeing, and Boeing puts the systems on the actual landing gear assemblies.

"Some of these parts are for the B-1 Bomber," Burke says, "while on the other end of the spectrum, we do a lot of work with Piper, smaller parts by scale. We also do some helicopter work for Bell, and we make several systems for the V-22 Osprey. The new 787 "Dreamliner" is the one plane that singularly has more Triumph components and systems than any other aircraft, period. The cowl door actuators, pull in actuators that lock some of the doors, landing gear systems, and so on."

Two V22 Ospreys shooting through the rocky crevices in daytime Iraq.



Sourcing in the U.S.

"We do about 10% of our manufacturing in house. The rest is outsourced to companies in the U.S.," Burke says. "We have in house Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), highly sophisticated quality departments and, of course, extensive testing. We test every actuator and pump and motor. These have rigorous test requirements that are far beyond the system's normal life expectancy. We test the extension of the hydraulic actuators, the locking mechanisms, the releases. We do leak tests, vibration tests, we'll check wear patterns to see if there is the possibility of materials breaking down. Our tests are very extensive.

"We work very closely with our customers to achieve Design for Manufacturability (DFM). Considering what the customer wants, our design team will create the design and then review it with the customer, with a critical eye on DFM. The design of the pump or linear actuator has to work, obviously, but we look closer, at better ways of making it, different materials, are we using the most efficient, cost-effective design and processes -- these are essential criteria for coming up with the best solution, for us and for our customer.

Piston rod being ground



"We regularly audit our suppliers to see if we can bring a particular supplier's product directly into our stock system -- without doing incoming inspection. This requires complete traceability: all operations performed, equipment used, tolerances and surface finishes held, inspection and verification systems used, any process variations and so on."

Burke says that many of their parts go outside for anodizing, chrome plating, cad plating, and nickel plating. However, before these parts are sent out, they undergo considerable prep work -- turning, horizontal and vertical milling -- so the part comes off these processes nearly complete. Burke also indicates that at Clemmons they do considerable internal and external (ID/ OD) grinding, as well as some internal honing, lapping and other secondary operations.


Burke: "Typical parts that we do here include shafts, piston rods, rotors for our hydraulic pumps, housings, bearing journals, piston-and-sleeve match grinding and some seat grinding. Tolerances are +/- 50 millionths, and 2-16 micron surface finishes are the norm. Tolerances like these require digital mics on the ODs, electronic gaging and air gages for any precision ID work."

G.William Burke III (left) and Brent Holder, operator. In the background is the Studer S20.



Diameters that Triumph grinds range from 0.125" up to 4", and lengths range from 0.25" to 13". One of the largest rotors has a length of 7". They may only grind several areas on the rotor instead of the entire rotor. Many times, according to Burke, they'll grind multiple diameters and shoulders in one operation.

"Our biggest bearing journal is 3" in diameter," Burke says. "We may grind the body of the rotor, the bearing journal of the rotor, or an area for fixturing. We put our own forms and radii on our wheels for parts which require plunge grinding. We do an angular plunge so we can grind the shoulder and the diameter at the same time. We'll bring the wheel in at an angle, plunge, and then traverse to get the finish that we require."

Cycle times are from 2 min to 5 min per part. Triumph doesn't do any high-volume grinding. Most of the jobs are in 24 or 30 part lots. Changeover times are from 30 to 90 min, part to part with each part a different configuration. For parts within a family, changeover is just a matter of minutes.

Rotor fixtured and waiting for grinding.



"Most of our ground parts," Burke adds, "like rotor shafts, will run between centers, with a dead center, or a live center to support the shaft, and we'll drive the shaft and grind the OD. We also have specific fixturing for part locating, and we will also grind parts, holding them in a collet in the grinder."

Burke adds that a particularly long shaft (7" rotor shaft) would be going into one of Triumph's rotary pumps and motors. These are hydraulic systems that serve the auxiliary power units when the plane is on the ground. Sometimes when you're on the ground you can hear a voomph, voomph, voomph right under your feet. Every time you hear that, that's a Triumph pump working the hydraulic systems.


"We grind a large range of materials and multiple material types," Burke says. "We grind 4340 steel, 5-15 PH stainless, 7075 aluminum -- we're pretty heavily into aluminum parts and consequently we do considerable aluminum grinding. Some of our other materials include bronze, and a material called Toughmet 3 which is a spinodal bronze. It machines like the 4340 but has greater wear resistance and toughness.

"Most of our rotors start out as 4340 steel, and we have our own internal bonding process where we'll put high leaded bronze plugs into our rotors, and we'll diffusion bond those together at high temperatures in a furnace, and then when the rotor comes out of the furnace, we'll start machining the bonded features, revealing those bronze plugs. These are usually wear areas where our pistons run inside the cylinder. It looks like the cylinder for a pistol revolver, except it has bronze plugs in the ID and we ream that out, leaving a small bronze wall thickness in the piston bore. The bronze helps lubricate free piston movement -- along with the hydraulic fluid the piston is pushing in and out."

Studer S33

A set up on the Studer S20, an ID/OD grinder.



"Many of our parts come from the lathes or mills," Burke says, "and we'll grind specific ODs for a bearing journal for fixturing as well as final print dimensions and, when necessary, some ID grinding. Our newest Studer S33 from United Grinding Technologies (Miamisburg, OH) is an OD grinder. However, we still have a Studer S20 that's both an ID and OD grinder. Our aluminum parts come from machining and go immediately outside for processing, like anodizing. The parts come back to the grinding department, and we'll grind the anodizing off certain areas of the OD. Very often it's necessary to do this, especially in a bearing area. Then we send the part out for hard coating. By exposing the aluminum after anodizing, the hard coat will only attach to the portion of the part that was ground. Often we'll have them build up the coating larger than we need, and then we'll grind the hard coat to size, not taking the coating below the parent aluminum.

"In the end we chose the Studer S33 over the other manufacturers' machines because of its ability to meet our specific and unique grinding needs. Given our extensive experience with the Studer S35, we were certain the Studer S33 would perform the grinding of our parts -- as well as open Triumph to future part applications.

A rotor being ground on the Studer S33.



"One big advantage has been that with our older machine, we could only program one part at a time -- you had to blow the program out after every job, so we were writing a new program every time. The Studer S33 allows us to write programs, store them in the control and upload and download them to our system. The operator now just has to call the program up, set his grinding limits, push the button and go. We've built a very large inventory of programs. When parts come back to our grinding department, unless it's a new part, we're off and grinding in a very short time."

The Studer S33 has allowed Triumph to bring in more work because the changeovers are faster, Burke adds. "We can grind more features in one setup. We've brought many new jobs in since we've had the S33, and it's been an extremely smooth transition. Some of these are actuator parts or pumps or motors; sometimes they're piston rods, where we'll grind the body and the head, and various features."


"Everything has just gone flawlessly," says Burke. "I've assisted in acquiring two other machines and have brought the last two pieces of equipment in here. We're about ready to bring four more, one of which is going to be an ID grinder. I'm strongly considering Studer to replace an older, manual machine.

"I guess what I've learned through this process is the importance of selecting not only the latest and best technology -- you've got to do that to stay ahead of the competition -- but also to acquire that technology though a great partner. The very best technology from a partner who stands behind its equipment and has your back with serious support. That's what we're lucky enough to have with UGT."

Want more information? Click below.

Triumph Actuation Systems

United Grinding Technologies

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