Saturday, December 16, 2006

Friction Stir Welding

The Wichita morning paper did a story on the Advanced Joining Laboratory which is part of the National Institute for Aviation Research which is part of the Wichita State University.

The article quoted Cessna CEO Jack Pelton as follows:

"We have spent time in research and development learning and understanding the process to see what the applicability may be for use. We did not come to the conclusion that it was viable for our products."

The article further stated, Cessna would consider it only for a new airplane that would have a long production run or large quantities of orders. That's because the change in process would require a large investment on the company's part.

The FSW images and the following paragraphs were added Sunday afternoon. To give credit where credit is due, some of the comments against this post may appear to parrot what is written here, but in fact, the comments were written first, therefore, the post parrots the comments.

Setting the corrosion issue aside, one can make a case for FSW only in very high production situations. Capital costs for the equipment is high and it takes a dedicated holding fixture for nearly every FSW joint. Notice in the image how close the clamps are to the work area, and a roller precedes the spinning mandrel to ensure the materials to be joined have a zero gap.

There are not many sheet metal parts that lend themselves to FSW. A conventional rib with the upper and lower flanges going the same way cannot be FSW. You gotta have clear blue sky above the joint. We envision Fuji FSW the wings. That ain't happening!

I can see some spanwise stringers or stiffeners being FSW, and ribs maybe on one wing skin if the the upper and lower flanges point in different directions. Otherwise, I suspect Fuji does like every other manufacturer, find the guy with the longest and skinniest arm, and introduce him to a bucking bar.

Another requirement for FSW, parts must be made very accurately for a good fit for welding. For years Vern has boasted of the precision parts going in the Eclipse. I can attest to the tight tolerances, tight enough that it adds to the difficulty in building the parts, tight enough that it is difficult for QC to check the parts.

Vern's argument is that his precision parts will speed assembly. Absolutely true! I think that what he failed to realize was that it would mean more non-conforming parts that add to costs and add to the paper work in trying to get them bought off to use in production.
I suspect one delay in getting an Airworthiness Certificate on the first production airplane and ultimately the Production Certificate will relate to the decision to set the bar high for themselves with such tight tolerances for all of their parts.


Stan Blankenship said...

In a previous comment, the blog was accused of Eclipse bashing.

The airplane is what it is, well almost. The airplane was certified in one configuration and is being sold in another.

IMO, what everybody on both sides of the issue is trying to achieve is to get a more accurate picture of the airplane, the program, its finances and the individuals behind the program.

Comparisons with the Mustang program are fair game. I think Eclipse wins the website competition hands down with their new look.

airtaximan said...

From E-clips new web site:

“The Eclipse 500 jet is the first very light jet – the category leader that has made it possible for more people to travel directly between cities on a quick, affordable and convenient basis.”

The FIRST? (I guess, the first to begin a program 8 years ago...)
HAS made it possible...? (not a single person has done this on an Eclipse yet)

Why they need to make these sorts of statements, is beyond me. It creates distrust and lacks credibility.

It must be so hard to look in the mirror...

Gunner said...

For my own part, I can't understand where this Blog gets the rep for unrequited Eclipse Bashing. Sure, there's vitriol at times; but from my standpoint that comes from both sides equally.

For my own part, I've admitted to being a former depositor. I'm also still interested in the Eclipse Promise. The concept of a very small, fast, efficient and inexpensive twin jet is perfect for me. I have no need for entertainment centers and lavatories that increase cabin size to the point that op costs go up significantly.

I still would like nothing better than for Vern to come thru. Unfortunately, the company's Signal:Noise ratio is astoundingly low. There simply is no place for that in aviation. There are ways to maintain product hype without constant apologies and misses; and there's a reason why similar Blogs have not sprung up regarding Adam, Cessna, Embraer, Honda or even Diamond.

Here's to Eclipse: may they make the dream come true, despite the condescending and adversarial style of their management.


ps: Stan-
I agree. The new web site rocks from a visual and technical point of view.

Vmc said...

The following is bordering a diatribe, so my pre-apology to those offended...

Let us pay homage for a moment: Eclipse has a proven track record and has led the pack in at least three subject areas: media publication, as evidenced by the positive media outpouring to the yet unproven airframe, not to mention their new website (kudos); innovation, as evidenced by their talented employees in their validation of an un-tapped market, creation of Phostrex, and proactive initiation of utilizing Stir-Fry Welding (jury IS still out on FSW); private equity fund-raising, as evidenced by the generous (not without hooks) contributions of Al Mann, Bill Gates, James Ray, and other philanthropist type. As we can see, the successes are great and well-recognized BUT, the concerns are the untruths and the continual need for the infamous "pat-on-the-back". What the hell happened to putting up or shutting up? That's where dinosaurs like Cessna, Piper, Diamond, and company earn the respect they deserve. There are no blogs with hearsay and innuendo regarding those companies. Why? Because they don't seek continual public approval and recognition, and they are not awaiting IPO. The need for continual recognition stems from #1. The worry of a homerun IPO stems from #1 and all of his commandants. Until Vburn "voluntarily" hands over the reigns, EAC will never be the company that it is capable of becoming. The dream and desire exist in every one of us that incessantly parades our facts and opinions to this small microcosm of the aviation world. Why? Because we do believe, and we feel slighted by Vburn's attempts at trying to rationalize the irrational. The truth shall prevail, and I damn well guarantee that all of us will be there to bear witness and proclaim victory or defeat. Make no mistake EB, the bashing that you perceive is out of frustration and a concern for our industry, not because we have it in for Eclipse. To all of the faithful employees of EAC, God bless you all, for you have given much to have come even this far.


flightfollowing said...

Stan, thanks for the new thread, much easier to read and keep track of things.

From Stan's quote of Cessna concerning Friction Stir Welding:
"Cessna would consider it only for a new airplane that would have a long production run or large quantities of orders. That's because the change in process would require a large investment on the company's part."

This is exactly what Eclipse is gambling on, a large production run to bring down the initial cost of purchase, and this is the fundamental difference between Eclipse's outlook and Cessna's outlook on the VLJ market, only time will tell.

The fact that Cessna would consider FSW for an appropriate application is hopefully a testament to the merits of FSW. Jack Pelton did not say "FSW is an unproven technology" or anything like that.

On another note, I saw an Eclipse ad a few months ago I think in AOPA pilot where the ad text read something like "first certified VLJ." This came out after provisional certification for eclipse and after full certification for the Mustang. Which I would have to agree was unneccessary and at best devious advertising on Eclipse's part. Recent ads do not mention this anymore. However, an add for the Mustang reads "The new Citation Mustang is certified. absolutely fully certified. Period." A nice little jab at Eclipse, deserved in my observation.

airtaximan said...

FSW requires a large production run... larger than Cessna can envision for any of their products...including the single engine props costing a few hundred thousand dollars. The $640,000,000 question becomes "is the E-500 a taxi-plane?" My answer is "no way". The biggest lie is that the E500 was designed for the air taxi market. No one would have built THAT plane for air taxi service.

FSW is a loser in the trades for the E-500, except for the claims, hype and one more "revolutionary technology" applied to this program, in order to raise money, not add value to the product.

twinpilot said...

The real reason for FSW. It was an explanation for why E-Clips could build and sell a Jet for the outrageously low sale price of 795K. Also given as an explanation for this price was the Avio System. The idea was "Now you don't have to pay King and Garmin all that unnecessary money for their precious radio equipment." Avio will make all of that junk obsolete. Avio and FSW are the reasons we can build and sell a Jet for 795K. I remember those great lies. After they updated Avio with the gear throttle warning system (Rev. A) it would also keep you from landing gear up. What a brilliant idea they came up with there.
I saw numerous people at Oshkosh when E-Clips announced the airplane that could clearly now see how E-Clips could do it. Now it all made sense. Older pilots were explaining to the junior birdmen about FSW and how the cost of building an airplane was now going to drop considerably and that is why they can build the E-Clips for such a low price. The dinosaurs of the industry didn't have this technology and that is why they have to charge so much. Now we are all going to be flying jets! The investors were probably aware of the whole scheme from the begining but if not, these revolutionary new concepts were probably convincing reasons why E-Clips would be successful.

No one with any knowledge of the aircraft industry would have believed a sale price of under one point five million was possible, but most people have no knowledge of the industry and so it didn't matter. I even think VR was more knowledgeable than that but let's not forget: He was a computer/software salesman. In the virtual world, everyone lies, so it is expected. I even think the computer generation has become immune to it. They expect it as well. No one really tells the truth, so they don't hold anyone accountable when they are proven to be a charlatan. I know I am in the minority now but I have no respect for VR or the company. The company employees are the big losers here. They deserve better.

airtaximan said...


you can build a plane for much less, if there is a large production run. 1,000 planes per year will bring the cost well below $1.5 million...even using conventional cost models and fabrication methods. If the production run is higher, believe it or not, a plane like the Eclipse could be below $1 million...unless you blow $1billion getting there.

Notice the price increase when Pratt signed on for the engine? This was probably due to them not buying the Dayjet-impregnated order book.

No Dayjet (Nimbus-like) high high low price...and no need for FSW, no rational for the inflated development cost. Also, less enthusiasm from suppliers across the board. Imagine Avedyne dragging their feet? Why? I guess they are no longer that interested in Eclipse...this will happen alot.

This is your Eclipse 500...
This is your Eclipse 500 on drugs...

twinpilot said...

A typical piston twin in the 1980's when many were being built, say 100 per year of each type from each manufacturer took about 6,000 hrs. to build. The cost per plane was about 60K. The rest of the 300K in costs were the purchased parts. In essence, 20% of the cost of the airplane was in labor using conventional methods. If you could cut that in half through better methods or just higher efficiency, you could save 10% on the cost of the airplane. Now your 1.5 million airplane is reduced to 1.35 million.

What the world needs is a low cost turbine engine. Unfortunately there aren't any, and there is no incentive for the manufacturers to produce one. E-clips and Williams were drinking the Kool Aid together. Williams would promise a lower price for high volume and E-Clips would promise high volume for that low price and the price got lower and lower and the volume got higher and higher. Then reality set it. The airplane is too heavy for that small engine. The volume was based on a low price (still highly speculative) and everything fell apart.

Since the airplane design was too heavy and the Williams engine wouldn't cut it anymore, the entire program changed when they discovered the engines were going to cost 150 to 200K each and they were 200 lbs heavier. Now they were back to a normal not virtual airplane and the laws of physics and economics once again applied. That is were we are today, except VR has to bring everyone back to reality ( out of the Kool Aid trance) slowly and in increments. He is selling a totally different concept than he started with. Conventional airplane, low volume, expensive purchased parts, etc.

The cost of engines is one reason the single engine jet or turboprop is so popular today. It is not that the engine is so reliable that you only need one, as the airframe manufacturers would have you believe, it is that the airplane will sell for 2 million and the manufacturer can pocket more money if he only has to pay for one engine. Why should he give you two if you will settle for one.

Compared to the cost of a Meridian, a new conventional twin jet for 1.5 million would be a bargain assuming it was safe, reliable, big enough and with enough useful load and range to make it usable. I am not sure the E-Clips will be that airplane.

Now that the E-Clips is low volume and price rising, I agree that FSW may cause more delays and costs than conventional methods. But it won't make all that much difference because the real cost of an airplane is in the purchased parts such as engines, windshields and windows, landing gear, brakes, pressurization components, fuel system components, avionics, etc. etc. All of those vendors have costs, legal expenses, and a profit motive. With normal volume, there is no reason for them to give E-Clips a better price than any other aircraft company.

Stan Blankenship said...


Well said! I would only add that with recips, engine costs represented about 25% of the cost of a new airplane. With turbines, engine costs are more typically 35-40% of the cost.

Green-or-Red said...

From the inside I have been told that the wing stringers are Friction Stir Welded to the upper and lower skins, thus a FSW panel. For the fuselage the window frames, stringers and frames are FSW'ed to the skins.

Very tight tolerances are required for this joining process. If the tolerances are not held, abnormalities result, e.g., the FSW pushes thru both parts being joined. I wonder how the FAA views this?

EclipseBlogger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
airtaximan said...

Check out Bob Crandall, on a Merril Lynch interview, now touting Eclipse:

Look for an order announcement soon...funny since a year ago, he flat out stated there's no way to make money with the Eclipse aircraft!

PS. anyone else think this is a sand-bag interview, equal to an "infomercial"

ColdWetMackarelofReality said...


An acceptable weld does not an acceptable part make, any more than an acceptable line of rivets would - all that means is that the weld is OK. Prototypical Vern smoke and mirrors answer.

The PC issues were to be resolved by Dec 4 according to Vern - did they get the PC and have simply forgotten to inform the world as they are so busy building airplanes? Not likely, this company and its' CEO live for the spotlight.

The test fleet was to be back in the air a week or so after they announced the issues with the wing bushing and windshields - did they get back in the air?

Anyone who knows anything about aircraft quality, which apparently excludes current and recently departed people at Eclipse, knows that the assemblies matter as much as the individual parts or the method of assembly, your weld argument is a dog that won't hunt. The end part is what matters.

Eclipse has backed themselves, and their structural suppliers, into a corner with requirements for high levels of dimensional accuracy, and the parts in reality are having a hard time meeting the requirements.

It is only a matter of time until Eclipse and\or the structural suppliers like Fuji or Hampson beg for an opening of tolerances, or changes from specifications to guidelines, in an attempt to be able to manufacture, assemble and deliver parts that can be used to deliver customer aircraft. Only then can Eclipse begin the positive cashflow this program so obviously and desparately needs to attract a buyer or con a major underwriter into rushing to IPO.

Who cares if it does not meet type design - we have checks to collect, err, I mean airplanes to deliver to our loyal suckers, err I mean customers. It is close enough, right?

I am still waiting for acknowledgement of the earlier point that is extremely likely that the 'quality escape' issue on the wing bushings effects each and every customer aircraft that has had its' wings\spars assembled and\or mated as they were, presumably, built under the same quality system that missed the issue in the test articles. The same quality system that was inadequate in the eyes of the Feds to achieve PC.

I also await acknowledgement that Vern has not asked for progress payments for the next 6 months as you keep saying(which would be expected) but for the next 9 months (through Sept '07), apparently in need of another cash injection, somewhere north of $200M.

Or how about the costs to Eclipse for the retrofits?

Or how about tying up service center capacity for who knows how long for god only knows how many airplanes? Unless they know they will not deliver 100-200 airplanes before the mods are certified in Q2, in which case relatively few aircraft will need the fixes.

Or how about the real costs to own and operate the plane?

Or how about the issues so early in the program re: structure and assembly (wing attach bushing, windshield cracking, brakes failures) for a 'key enabling technology' for the high utilization Air Taxi operators?

Or how about the action in the secondary market where the true-believer\early adopter types are trading out of the first deliveries?

How long until DayJet packs it in?

These are the questions the media, the Board of Directors, the owner community, any potential vendor, employee, customer or investor should be asking - and they are the same questions Eclipse should be answering.

The real problem is that the basic business model of Eclipse is based not on 100 years of airplane business experience, but the dot-com model where the leadership comes from and the dot-bomb timeframe during which the scheme was hatched. Tell a great story, create the appearance of value, PE SchmeeNee, it is a new paradigm - people will love it - and we'll make millions.

Over $500M, countless vendors, ruined families, and 7 years later, somebody has to blink soon - who will it be?

yenolo said...

Here is Vern's latest missive;

Dear Eclipse customers:

As we anticipate the end of 2006 we can reflect upon a year of great strides, frequent challenges and significant progress. As the year ends, I and all of the Eclipse Aviation employees wish to extend to all of you a peaceful and joyous holiday season. We want to wish you a happy New Year.

Prior to the end of the year, I want to update you on the manufacturing progress and recent developments at Eclipse Aviation.

We are making steady but slow progress toward delivering the first aircraft and obtaining our production certificate. The FAA has been very good about staying over weekends and is working diligently with our team to evaluate our manufacturing and quality processes. The 37th aircraft has now started friction stir welding and there are 11 aircraft in final assembly positions resting on their own landing gear. Production aircraft three has completed production flight test and recently emerged from our new Sunport 3 paint facility with a black and red striped LX-3 paint scheme. Two additional aircraft are in production flight test and should fly sometime this week depending on the Albuquerque winter weather.

I am also happy to report that the pre-production flight test fleet is progressing as expected through the fleet wide modification period. N505EA has been flying for more than two weeks and has been performing exceptionally well. This aircraft has been flown by the FAA and is being used to validate the training program. N502EA will be back in the air by the end of this week with the larger tip tanks. In January, N503EA and N504EA will also be back online. So, overall, you should feel confident that the flight test fleet will be completely up and running at the beginning of 2007 with the goal to certify the remaining performance modifications as soon as possible.

On an organizational note, I also want to let you know that our CFO, Peter Reed, has decided to retire at the end of this month. Peter will turn 62 next year and wants to transition from the hectic 80 plus hour work week that he has done for 35+ years to a lifestyle where he can afford the time to travel with his wife. While we are sad to lose a great and long-time team member, we wish Peter the best of luck in his much deserved retirement. I must emphasize that this is in no way whatsoever related to the health of Eclipse Aviation. Peter will be the first to tell you that his past seven plus years at Eclipse have been both rewarding and challenging. He is proud to have participated in our growth from two employees (Peter was the second Eclipse employee) with only a concept to almost 1,000 employees and a certified aircraft. A search for Peter's replacement is underway.

As I promised in an earlier communication, we will continue to give you regular updates on the progress at Eclipse Aviation. The next communication will come in January, following the holiday break.

Your Customer Care team will be available for routine business December 27th, 28th and 29th. In January routine business will commence on Tuesday, January 2nd. In the event of a serious problem during the holiday period, please call the Eclipse Aviation main number at 505-724-1140 and customer care will be notified to return your call.

Once again, thank you for your continued support and contributing to a great and monumental 2006.


Vern Raburn
President & CEO