Applicable aviation tools and their advances are a necessity
By Mark Robins
Hammers are one of the oldest human tools known to man. Stones attached to sticks with strips of leather or animal sinew were being used as hammers by about 30,000 BCE during the middle of the Paleolithic Stone Age. Many millennium later, in today’s aviation maintenance arena, dead blow hammers and plastic tip hammers are still being used — along with a plethora of many other aviation tools — by engineering professionals to service, repair, overhaul and maintain diverse aircraft.
Aviation maintenance tools include drills, drives, adapter sets, cable pull testers, box wrenches, socket sets, tie guns, crimpers, universal positioners, infrared thermometers, metal cutting fluids, blind riveters, tensioners and many others. Used by aircraft engineers to ensure an aircraft’s structural soundness, many specialized tools are available to check fixtures and perform repairs on structures, components and equipment. Some are so simple they can be found in a home toolbox; others are unique to aircraft maintenance.
Every aviation maintenance tool has a specific purpose and innovative companies are always looking for ways to advance its usefulness.
Advances, ergonomics, change
Clearly, the right tools in the hands of trained aircraft engineers will significantly reduce downtime and costs. While change is always constant, even in the aviation maintenance tool arena, a hammer’s main function in the Stone Age isn’t that different from its function in a hangar. So how and why are companies creating new advances in tools?
“Tools are the key to efficient and effective maintenance of jet engines,” says Tim Meyers, customer technical training leader, Evendale, Ohio. “Applying new technologies, as well as user input for improvement, are key for customer satisfaction. We are always looking to improve our customer experience with improved productivity and ease-of-use tooling. Working safety is always a key consideration with every design and consideration of new technology. Achieving these critical-to-quality parameters is important for our OEMs and our customers. Special ergonomic considerations are being made to ensure the fundamental designs are lighter and tools are easier to use, also ensuring improving safety and improving material handling methods.”
Utica, a division of Lexington, S.C.-based Apex Tool Group, understands ergonomics and the tool-and-engineer interface. It even found a way to add new features to its line of screwdrivers, a tool that was berthed in the 15th Century. Each of Utica’s three standard adjustable models is distinguished by red, blue and black for easy identification. A patented, spring-loaded locking collar locks the scale at the desired torque setting. This prevents the operator from accidentally using the
wrench in the unlocked position, which may lead to incorrectly tightened fasteners.
Conyers, Ga.-based Proto Industrial Tools has introduced a new line of full-polish chrome, reversible ratcheting combination wrenches with spline box ends. A new open-end configuration allows up to 13 degrees additional swing. The line includes 38 fractional and metric sizes as well as four wrench sets. “Spline ratcheting wrenches are commonly used in the aerospace industry and have been a key growth driver in recent years,” says Alan English, senior brand manager. “We are proud to be the first hand tool manufacturer to offer this configuration meeting stringent Berry Amendment regulations for Made in the USA products.” The new wrench pattern features a patented I-beam design that removes material weight while offering an increased bearing surface to help improve comfort and reduce hand fatigue.
Ryan Bendell, president of YARD STORE.com, Wichita Kansas agrees that ergonomics is a major push in aviation tool advances and is even willing to test them to prove it. “Newly designed tools make it easier and safer on the operator, and produce better quality work more consistently,” he says. “Every new or different tool we sell has been tested in the field. The Yard provides tools we are considering adding to our line to customers to test and report on the quality, usefulness and ergonomics.”
The marketplace is a driver of new advances in tools. “There is an overall requirement in life-cycle management to reduce costs to stay competitive in the market,” says Jerzy Komorowski, general manager of aerospace, National Research Council Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. “New advances in tools can deliver these cost savings.” Komorowski believes that since many aircraft are being used beyond their original design life, their maintenance may not be supported by the OEM, hence the push for tool advances. Also, he sees environment-related damage, such as corrosion and erosion in airframes and engines that trigger or induce maintenance to prompt new tool advances because these conditions “were not adequately considered in the OEM design and full-scale testing.”
Adoption and intelligence
While, Bendell admits certain aviation maintenance procedures and their tools remain unchanged claiming, “the basics of installing and removing rivets has not changed much in 50 years,” he is not wary of new tool advances when they are applicable. For example, “The Yard Store was early to adopt the Wichita State University study that Tungsten bucking bars reduced vibration on the operator,” he says. “Many thought that rivet buckers would not pay $250 for a bucking bar shape in Tungsten they used to pay $15.00 for. Once mechanics started using our Tungsten bars, it was the beginning of widespread adoption of these superior tools.”
Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream is a company that has realized these Tungsten bucking bars are a tool advance that has indeed helped reduce the risk of injury for employees, and help maximize work efficiency and quality. “A typical aircraft includes thousands of rivets, which are used to fasten the skin of the aircraft to the frame and attach many aircraft parts and additional structural components,” says Paul Dellinger, director of environmental health and safety at Gulfstream. “The employees who perform this skill are more susceptible to arm, hand and wrist injuries due to the repetitive motions they make with a hand tool such as a pneumatic riveting gun. These injuries or conditions, called work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) include carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.
“During a riveting task, a rivet punch or rivet gun punches a stroke on the rivet head. A bucking bar, which is held up against the other end of the rivet, then closes up the rivet. Years ago, the person holding the bucking bar was a lot more susceptible to WMSDs because the bar was typically made of steel, which did not dampen vibration well. Tungsten bucking bars are denser than steel, adding enough weight to dampen the vibration. The result is less stress on a person’s hands and/or arms, which means less fatigue and less chance of injury.”
Thierry Laffont, global account leader at GE Measurement & Control in Lyons, France, believes one driver behind advances in tools is the lack of qualified aircraft maintenance personnel. “The aviation maintenance industry, like many other industries, is suffering a gradual decline in the number of technically qualified inspection personnel in the sector,” he says. “This is caused by the retirement of many highly qualified inspectors. Consequently, it is important that inspection tools are increasingly smarter, allowing inspection tasks to be carried out by technicians who are not as well qualified. GE Measurement & Control is a technology-led company, which strives continuously to improve its offerings. These improvements can be in functionality and efficiency as well as ‘smartness.’”
To fully maximize the ergonomics and intelligence that new tool advances can offer, Gulfstream utilizes an in-house team of three ergonomists in its tool selection process. “An ergonomist looks for ways an employee can do his or her job with as much safety and comfort as possible,” Dellinger says. “When choosing tools, ergonomists identify tools that are not only effective in getting a task accomplished, but also those that are less likely to cause injury. These are tools that can be used effectively with less force, less repeated movement and less awkward positioning of the body. Improved safety and health often leads to a boost in work quality and productivity.”
Tools go high-tech
As aviation changes and advances, so must aviation tools. The introduction of composite materials was a revolutionary leap for aviation and with it came new tools, far more advanced than just a hammer and screwdriver. “The biggest change coming to our end of the tool business is the introduction of composite construction on airplanes,” Bendell says. “What started with the Beech Starship has evolved into the Boeing 787. It will be much different in 10 more years.”
Composite materials inspection is becoming increasingly important. To do so, new high-tech aviation tools are allowing aviation personnel to see the unseeable. “New tools are being developed such as the Bondtracer, which allows flightline and ramp crews to evaluate the severity of composite impact damage right at the gate, in accordance with the aircraft’s maintenance manuals,” says Laffont. “This prevents unnecessary grounding or flight delay, providing significant savings. Bondtracer is as easy to use as a common stud finder. It has a simple display with green indicating consistent skin thickness and red indicating an unanticipated thickness change. It is designed to be a useful tool for ramp personnel with no nondestructive testing training or certifications.”
Everett, Wash.-based Fluke Corp. has produced two particularly sophisticated tools that it believes represent a once-in-a-decade advancement. Both electrical and electronics aviation systems (radar, communication) must be inspected, but to do that requires test tools designed to operate at the same frequencies used on board the aircraft. “Regular test and measurement tools test at 50 or 60 Hz, since that is the electrical frequency found in commercial electrical installations,” says Hilton Hammond, ScopeMeter product manager at Fluke. “Because avionics systems are engineered to be lightweight, they use different materials, affecting even the function and frequency of their electrical and electronic systems. Electrical power inspections should occur at 400 Hz, while electronics should occur at 500 MHz. At the close of 2012, Fluke introduced a 500 MHz handheld oscilloscope and a 400 Hz power quality analyzer, to meet these requirements. While measurement at these frequencies had been attempted before, these tools represented a breakthrough in safety rating, grounding, ruggedness, and battery life for a field tool – especially important in the military.”
To learn more about specific tool advances and their correct usage, refer to maintenance instruction manuals. Also, “The OEM tool and equipment manuals are a good source for the latest information,” says Tim Meyers, customer technical training leader, Evendale, Ohio. “Additionally, tooling distributors also have key technical knowledge on new technology and advances.” Detailed information about aviation tools is featured on company websites.
To disseminate information on tool advances, Snap-on Industrial has developed several new Advanced Technology Labs (ATL). These vehicles showcase Snap-on’s tools, equipment, capabilities, services and solutions for the aviation industry. “The ATLs tour the country, visiting MROs and airlines to give technicians the opportunity to see demonstrations on how Snap-on’s innovations and technologies are making the aviation industry more productive and efficient,” says Scott Steward, aviation support manager at Snap-on Industrial, Kenosha Wis. “Snap-on is constantly working with our customers within the aviation industry to identify their needs and tooling requirements.”
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