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Saturday, Jul 2, 2022

Old Shop, New Tricks

To see how Frazier Aviation Inc. is meeting the challenge of improving productivity when making military and commercial aircraft parts, look no further than two machines on the shop floor. One is an older, SNK milling machine that requires a manual change of the drill tools used to cut metal parts with a top speed of about 5,000 rpms. A programmer and machinist operate and closely monitor the machine. Nearby is a VR-11 from Haas Automation Inc. in Oxnard, a five-axis machine with a computer monitor to input the specifications for the parts being made, automated switching of the tooling and a speed of 15,000 rpms. Like the SNK, a programmer and machinist operate the machine but do not always have to be on hand to monitor it. “It spits out parts amazingly fast,” said Rob Frazier, 25, quality management systems manager and the third generation to work at the family business. Frazier Aviation makes parts used on older, legacy aircraft ranging from the C-130 Hercules transport plane in production since the mid-1950s and Boeing 737 introduced in the late 1960s – and does so using some of the most state-of-the-art equipment. In addition to the five-axis milling machine, which can cost up to $1.2 million, Frazier has invested in a water jet cutter carrying a price tag of $700,000, and a Faro arm, a $75,000 part-measuring device made by Faro Technologies Inc. in Lake Mary, Fla. From its beginning in the early 1950s as Frazier Aviation Services, the company has always supplied spare parts. It was founded by couple Leona and Bob Frazier, while the latter was still working at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica. Now deceased, they are the parents of current President Bob Frazier. Today, Frazier employs 46 workers building parts for about 10 models of aircraft. The company typically ships out about 1,000 different parts of varying quantities a year. The company declined to share revenue numbers. Video game The most recent purchase was the water jet cutter, a flat, rectangular machine capable of cutting any type of material. David Caldwell, vice president of engineering, said that with water coming out at 60,000 psi mixed with garnet, a fine abrasive sand, the machine is capable of cutting through a 4-inch thick piece of aluminum. The water jet is such an advanced machine that the metal does not need deburring, or polishing, usually needed when parts are cut on a milling machine, Caldwell added. Frazier has one full-time employee dedicated to the deburring machine and sheet metal parts. A part cut by the water jet eliminates about one man-hour of deburring. Joe Klocko, the director of the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, a state program to provide training and education to manufacturers, said the sophistication of modern manufacturing equipment makes the investment worthwhile, even to smaller companies the size of Frazier. “It’s using technology to get your job done smarter not harder,” he said. The five-axis milling machine, for instance, can produce the best aerodynamic aircraft engine blades, while the Faro arm bought by Frazier a year ago speeds the measuring of large parts that would have taken days to complete by hand. The a seven-axis machine can extend out six feet and is used to measure the height, width, length and depth of aviation parts. The readings are calculated automatically. The company wanted to speed up the measurement process and make it easier than in years past when calculations performed by hand. One person can do an inspection, whether by hand or using the Faro arm. Bob Frazier said the new equipment simply amazes him. “I look at it like a video game,” said the 60-year-old company president. “I’m used to a height gauge and calipers.” Frazier Aviation San Fernando Manufactures parts for legacy aircraft Annual Revenue: Would not disclose Employees: 46

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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