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An Ideal Reflection of What Waltonen Can Do, Bell 505 Jet Ranger X Case Study.

Bell 505 Jet Ranger X Project Neatly Illustrates Waltonen’s Capabilities

Bell 505 Jet Ranger X Project

The last of the 206B JetRanger helicopters rolled off the assembly line in late 2010, bringing to an end a nearly 50-year era for Bell Helicopter of Fort Worth, Texas. Only a few years later, however, they wanted to re-enter the light, single engine aircraft market. And Bell turned to Waltonen Engineering of Warren, Michigan, to make things happen – fast. “Bell wanted to challenge the norms. They didn’t want this program to be bogged down in the bureaucracy that usually takes place in developing an aircraft,” says Tom Poirier, Senior Account Manager at Waltonen. “And we wanted to help find a way to make this program viable. We like these kind of challenges; it’s what makes us get up and go to work in the morning.”

Bell’s plans for its 505 Jet Ranger X called for a “bolt-together” aircraft, a modular unit assembled in a higher volume production environment than most programs, with an ultimate goal of rolling them off the assembly line and into the flight line at a pace of one unit per day. Speed to market was critical. They targeted a quick, three-year product development cycle from design concept to production aircraft delivered to customer.

And Waltonen was up for the task.
We provided the first piece of the puzzle – proving Bell could produce a functioning bolt-together aircraft. Using PLM software from our partner company Geometric Solutions, we produced Variation Analysis (VSA) models that showed Bell a bolt-together aircraft was indeed feasible. The folks at Bell were impressed enough to say, “What else can you do for us on this project?” Our response was, “Waltonen has been a manufacturing systems design company for nearly 60 years, and we’d like to design the tooling required for the FTV’s (Flight Test Vehicles). We will design them in such a way as to make them easily convertible into production tooling while allowing your product design to mature without substantial impact to the tooling. And if you want us to build and install those for you, we can do that too.”

505 jet ranger x first look

For the FTV tooling we worked closely with the Bell design team in order to execute a virtually simultaneous product and tooling design engineering effort, which helped significantly shorten the product development cycle. In addition to using the most current and sophisticated CAD and CAM software from Geometric Solutions, our build facility, Independence Tooling Solutions executed the build of the tools that Waltonen designed. Waltonen installed the tooling and using our in house inspection equipment, re-certified the FTV tooling at the manufacturing facility. For its contributions to the program up to this point, Waltonen was honored with a Recognition Award from the Program Management Team and the Senior Management of Bell Helicopter at a program luncheon in Ft. Worth.

While the FTV’s were being flown, the production configuration of the product design was still maturing, as Bell’s design team took input from the FTV data and lessons learned from the FTV builds. When they felt the product was mature enough to start talking about how the production line would look, Bell came back to Waltonen for help. “Will you help us figure out how to break down the product in order to make one a day?” “We’d be glad to.”

The Waltonen team went about the task of developing a lean tooling and assembly methodology that minimized the amount of tooling necessary and touch labor in order to keep the cost down for the aircraft. Once again working closely with the Bell design team, we developed a sub-assembly breakdown and corresponding tooling configurations that met the one per day rate requirement of the production line. We developed an assembly line layout for the space allocated for the tooling and support equipment necessary to produce the helicopter structure. This needed to be a modular type build that could stretch and be expanded as the line rate moved up from the initial pace to the one per day optimal rate. Once the configuration was agreed upon by Bell and Waltonen, the tooling design was executed by Waltonen and approved for build by Bell. Meanwhile, the FTV tooling was returned to Waltonen to be reconfigured for production.

bell 505 jet ranger x flying durring winter

Independence Tooling Solutions completed the re-configuration of the existing tools and the full build of the new tools and sent them to the assembly plant where the Waltonen team did the final installation and re-certification. All of this was done prior to the final release of the Bell Product design. The Waltonen team developed tooling for the Cabin, Truss, Tailboom, Doors, Floor Panels, and Firewalls. Waltonen also developed the Master Gage Tooling necessary to control critical matching interfaces of the helicopter. Some of these critical interfaces drove tooling requirements to +/-0.002. The 505 Jet Ranger X project for Bell Helicopter is one demonstration of how we have the right people, the right processes and the right technologies to partner with our customers throughout the entire product development cycle. From complex engineering analyses to tooling design and manufacturing systems development, build, certification, installation, and support services. Waltonen can leverage our group of companies to meet our customer’s challenges. In short we showed them we could take their idea, prove that it worked, move it through an engineering phase where all the requirements and steps are established, then build, execute, and deliver the final pieces needed to build their product. Bell saw Waltonen as an extension of them and an integral part of the team that was needed to push the program forward and bring the 505 Jet Ranger X to reality. This entire scenario generated what Poirier calls, “an ideal reflection of what Waltonen can do.”

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