For decades, the aerospace industry’s advances have been the very essence of innovation. This industry’s continual progress requires cutting-edge manufacturing environments or future factories as commonly referenced. For clients like The Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, choosing the right construction partner is critical.
We sat down with Jim Cathcart, Austin’s director of project planning for aviation, aerospace, and defense to find out what Austin considers the crucial focus areas when constructing a manufacturing facility, often called a “future factory” for an aerospace industry client.
“First,” says Cathcart, “the thought and creativity Austin invests in constructing these facilities are related to the way current aircraft and spacecraft components and assemblies are manufactured.” From there, five critical areas must be considered when designing and building a future factory.
1. CLIMATE-CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT
There is a demand for temperature and humidity-controlled environments over a large volume of space, such as high-bays. “Composites, polymers, and lightweight non-metallic materials are sensitive to environmental conditions in maintaining critical tolerances during the assembly process. And that’s a challenge,” says Cathcart. The aerospace facility must sustain a consistent interior environment, which means designing for anti-static and climate-controlled areas, clean rooms, infrastructure and utility flexibility, as well as security for Department of Defense programs. “The temperatures, humidity, and air quality inside the facilities must be consistent around the clock every day of the year, even if there’s a monsoon outside,” he adds.
2. MANUFACTURING AUTOMATION
Demands for cutting-edge ideas aren’t limited to designing, engineering, and constructing these facilities. Technological advances in the methods of assembling spacecraft, airplanes, rockets and satellites have also required Austin to plan for new systems and techniques.
Cathcart explains, “Today’s sites must support automation and robotics, as well as additive manufacturing like rapid prototyping. In many cases, the manufacturing process begins with a powdered metallic or non-metallic material which is built up from there.”
Specialized spaces and environments are not necessarily common in general manufacturing, but in these cases, they are necessary. With potentially fewer humans involved in the manufacturing process and assembly floors occupied by robotic equipment such as AGVs and Air Bearings, Austin has to support these new assembly and material handling technologies. As an example, Cathcart cites the need for super flat floors in assembly plants where massive aircraft or spacecraft are moved throughout the facility using these material handling systems.
3. STRUCTURAL REQUIREMENTS
Austin also adapts traditional features of aerospace buildings to meet the industry’s ever-evolving needs. Newly constructed and renovated facilities are designed to meet current manufacturing needs, but often include the flexibility to adapt to future program requirements as well.
Cathcart says the use of trenches is one example. “The trench is nothing new in aircraft facilities; it has been used since World War II,” he explains. “However, the evolution of trenches for utility distribution has been remarkable.” Creating utility networks in a trench system enables the manufacturer to move processes quickly within the space because they can tap into the utilities in any part of the plant as needed.
In certain situations, especially in super flat flooring applications, trenches may not be advisable, so utilities are run underfloor in a grid formation. Utility pop-up stanchions are provided throughout the manufacturing floor to produce electricity, compressed air, and other services as needed. A retractable lid covers the stanchion keeping the floor smooth.
4. CYBER BORDER PROTECTION
In addition to meeting the structural requirements of manufacturing in the aerospace industry, Austin works with clients whose hardware, software, and communication channels must be secure without fail. Austin’s aerospace clients include defense contractors for the United States government whose security needs are particularly extensive. Cathcart says, “Austin must deliver solutions that keep clients’ facilities secure from both cyber-attacks and espionage.” Austin’s team members undergo extensive training to maintain compliance with ICD-705 requirements and other national and international mandates, including the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
“We comply with the federal government classified requirements,” Cathcart goes on. “Our solutions enable our clients to maintain the highest security to meet SCIF requirements and by addressing redundancy in systems such as backup generators and batteries. Even in an earthquake, these facilities cannot have any interruption in power and security. Our clients’ data centers are critical. Much like protecting our country’s physical borders, we make sure our clients can protect their cyber borders.”
5. ATTRACTING TOP TALENT
Modernizing manufacturing campuses has become a unique and intriguing aspect of renovating aerospace facilities. Austin plans and designs its clients’ facilities to entice the engineers and STEM talent that will be attractive to their clients’ potential workforce.
“Until five-plus years ago, most aerospace campuses were stuck in a time warp of antiquated buildings,” Cathcart says. “We’ve been modernizing facilities with mindfulness to employee retention and attracting talent. Through innovative design, engineering and construction, the renovated buildings are becoming exciting places to work and collaborate, “ he adds.
From creative solutions in the physical environment to creating spaces that are both efficient and appealing, The Austin Company will continue to meet the needs of its aerospace clients in the future and beyond.
For more than 100 years, The Austin Company has made enhancements in the design, engineering, and construction of aerospace manufacturing and assembly facilities to meet the needs of the aviation, aerospace, and defense industries.
This article was first published in Results Magazine, a publication by The Austin Company.