Where to Outsource Custom Aircraft Parts

custom airfcraft parts

Table of Contents

Developing experimental aircraft requires a lot of custom parts to be fabricated. Whether you’re building full aircraft or parts kits, the need for custom parts is the same. There can be a lot of benefits to utilizing outside manufacturing services, like SendCutSend, if you know what to look for and what to avoid. With this article we’re hoping to highlight some of the important aspects of outsourcing your parts. 

Table of Contents

Types of Aircraft Parts Manufacturing Companies

When an experimental aircraft (or any aircraft for that matter) comes together, the parts can come from various sources. The automotive world has more or less standardized this concept of a manufacturing supplier pyramid. At the top of the pyramid is the OEM or Original Equipment Manufacturer, and the Tier suppliers all below that. Let’s explore what that means for manufacturing of parts at each level.

OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers)

The OEM is the company selling the final product. In the automotive world, this would be Ford, General Motors, Toyota, etc. For experimental aircraft, this would be companies like Sonex or Van’s Aircraft that build and sell full aircraft or aircraft builders kits. Often a final assembly is built by an OEM, but just as often an OEM may outsource manufacturing of parts to another supplier. This is where Tier 1 comes in. A good example of a system an OEM aircraft company may source from a Tier 1 supplier would be avionics. Because they typically require specific skills and equipment it’s unlikely an OEM would be developing and building their own electronics. They likely buy those assemblies.

Tier 1 Suppliers

Tier 1 supply companies will supply parts, assemblies and even complete subsystems directly to an OEM. That could mean the OEM contracts the Tier 1 supplier to build something to the OEM specifications, bespoke to that OEM. Or it could mean that a Tier 1 supplier already produces products the OEM would use in their product. In our example of avionics, a Tier 1 supplier may make custom electronics designed specifically for an OEM, or they may manufacture avionics in general that the OEM uses in their aircraft.

Tier 2 Suppliers

Tier 2 suppliers come into play by supplying parts to Tier 1 suppliers. Again using our avionics as an example, the Tier 1 company manufactures the electronics assemblies, but they likely purchase the subcomponents from various Tier 2 suppliers. Items like PCBs, microprocessor chips, antenna modules, capacitors, etc. And once again, they may be bespoke to the Tier 1 suppliers requirements or they may be more general purpose. 

Tier 2 isn’t necessarily the bottom of the manufacturing pyramid, it may go on to Tier 3, 4 etc. depending on the complexity of parts and materials. A Tier 2 supplier that provides finished PCBs to a Tier 1, may purchase blank PCB material from a Tier 3.

Specialty Fabrication Shops

Some companies specialize in producing parts to any customer’s specifications. These types of companies are often referred to as Specialty Fabrication Shops. SendCutSend is a Specialty Fabrication Shop. Companies like SendCutSend may fit anywhere into the pyramid. For example, they may be used:

  • By OEMs to produce formed aluminum panels for wing spars or ribs. 
  • To produce custom carbon fiber panels to house cockpit instrumentation. 
  • By Tier 1 suppliers to cut panels for instrumentation housings or frames. 
  • By Tier 2 suppliers to develop fixtures to streamline their manufacturing processes

Specialty Fab Shops fill the needs of many manufacturing processes from providing parts and components used in deliverable assemblies to parts used for tooling and fixturing as part of the manufacturing itself.

What to Look for in Aircraft Parts Manufacturing Companies

Not all manufacturers are created equally. That’s not to mean all manufacturers must have the same qualifications to be acceptable, but it is important to know what to look for to get the components you need. We’ve put together a short list to highlight some aspects of manufacturers to consider when outsourcing any of your work.

Quality Assurance and Quality Control

Quality products and services are critical. If a supplier doesn’t consistently produce quality work, they should be avoided. Keep in mind quality does not mean perfect. Quality in the manufacturing world refers to consistently producing results at or above a specified level. That could mean many different things depending on the manufacturer. A battery manufacturer should produce batteries that produce voltages within a given range and last for a specified number of charge/discharge cycles. A fabrication shop should be able to source the correct materials and cut them to size within a specified tolerance.

One way manufacturing companies are able to provide consistent levels of quality is with processes known as Quality Assurance and Quality Control. Even the smallest companies should have processes in place to monitor quality, identify deviations from standards and correct issues appropriately before they ship to customers. That’s known as Quality Control. Quality Assurance refers to the process of preventing losses in quality before they happen. That may include regular equipment maintenance, planning out and verifying proper manufacturing processes are being followed. 

Don’t be afraid to ask new manufacturers about their quality processes.

Expertise and Reputation

You wouldn’t expect a battery manufacturer to cut and bend metal to your specifications just like you wouldn’t expect SendCutSend to produce batteries. When looking at manufacturers for your parts, their expertise is an important consideration. Each company will have a unique focus that should drive the type of employees they hire and the equipment they purchase. Some processes can be performed with less skill, which can reduce costs, but some processes and services need more experience and expertise.

Similarly, a company may have all the right equipment and personnel, but have the reputation of being difficult to work with or producing sub-par products. It’s worth a closer look at companies with poor reputations.

Certifications

Some manufacturers will go the extra mile and obtain certifications for their materials or processes. This generally involves a third party organization certifying that the manufacturer meets a specific standard. Not all parts require certification, but when dealing with aircraft parts there are several certifications you may want to look for.

ISO 9001

ISO 9001 is an international standard that specifies the requirements dealing with quality. By being ISO 9001 certified, a company shows that it has a set of quality processes in place and is following them. The aerospace industry has specific requirements that aren’t quite covered by ISO 9001, so AS9100 was created. You’ll find many more standard manufacturers with ISO 9001 certifications than AS9100 certifications, but it’s important to know where you might need aerospace specific quality processes. There are similar standards AS9110 and AS9120 for other aspects of the supply chain.

NADCAP

NADCAP (National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program) is a program that creates standards for aerospace specific products and processes to be certified against.

There are also certifications that may not be aircraft specific, but are still relevant. These include material certifications to confirm materials meet physical property standards. Fasteners will have their own standards such as grade or class. Finishes like zinc plating (ASTM B633) and anodizing (MIL-A-8625) are another area with their own industry standards to be certified against.

It should be noted here, that there is a difference between conforming to a standard and being certified. Conforming to a standard means the supplier follows or meets the requirements of a given industry standard, but they don’t necessarily have a third party verification to prove it. Being certified means just that, a third party has certified the products or services actually meet the standard. You’ll often pay more for certification, but you’ll need to decide for yourself where that’s required.

Materials Available

Another aspect of manufacturing suppliers to consider is the range of materials they offer. This is especially useful when developing prototypes where you may need to test multiple materials before deciding which to use for production or to build prototypes from less expensive materials utilizing the same processes. It can also be useful when offering your customers different levels of a specific product. Maybe with a steel to aluminum or aluminum to titanium or carbon fiber upgrade path.

SendCutSend offers a wide range of materials from metals, woods, plastics and composites in a similarly wide range of thicknesses. You can see the 165+ materials we have available on our website.

Delivery Timing

There’s more to delivery timing than just how quickly a supplier can turn around a part order. When evaluating suppliers for lead time, it’s important to ask these types of questions. Delays in your production schedule typically trickle down to your customers, which is not a good look. 

  • How quickly can they do it week after week? 
  • How quickly can they do it during busy seasons or over holidays? 
  • What is their capacity for when you need quantities in the hundreds or thousands vs a single part? 
  • How much material do they keep in stock? 
  • How efficient are their processes?  

SendCutSend has gone the extra mile by automating much of our production process to be as streamlined and efficient as possible. Regardless of the time of year, standard orders are produced within 1-3 days and take 1-3 days for shipping. 

Cost of Materials and Services

The final aspect we’ll discuss here is cost. This is often the only, or at least most important aspect many customers consider when outsourcing parts. It’s important to know what you get for your money, which is why we’ve covered everything else first. When it comes to cost, all companies are in business to make money, so it’s unrealistic to not expect some markup on material costs or charges for additional services. A supplier with an efficient setup is able to reduce their markup and pass those savings along to their customers. Look for things like discounts on higher quantities, for example. Also look at potential value add options such as included services.

At SendCutSend we’re constantly improving our processes, finding new and innovative ways to produce quality parts quickly. Evidenced by the fact that we’ve been able to reduce our costs while adding new materials and new services. Our website also includes a host of design tools (parts builder, templates, bend calculator, material selector, hardware catalog and more) freely available to help make your design process as smooth as possible. 

Finally, our website is full of guidelines, tutorials, blog articles like this one and many more resources, all free. You don’t have to take our word for it, browse our website resources and we offer instant pricing so you can check pricing on your own parts any time.

Advantages of Outsourcing Aircraft Parts Manufacturing

  • Access to Bulk Material Pricing: You can purchase materials for in-house production, but until you reach higher quantities you don’t generally get the benefits of buying materials in bulk. At SendCutSend we buy large quantities of materials to keep in stock at all times, allowing us to offer you parts at low costs, sometimes lower than you’d be able to purchase just the materials.
  • Access to Range of Services: With each new process your part requires, that’s one more (at least one) complication, tool or fabricator. Cutting, bending, tapping, hardware installation and finishing all require separate tools and processes. Outsourcing your parts to SendCutSend gets you access to all those services with little more than a few mouse clicks.
  • Industrial Equipment and Expertise: You can certainly do all the processes we mentioned above in-house, but the other aspect to consider is the investment in equipment and skilled workers. With SendCutSend you get parts made with high quality industrial grade equipment run by skilled operators. There’s also the maintenance requirements on that equipment which is a recurring cost beyond the initial investment.

Challenges in Outsources Aircraft Parts

  • Intellectual Property Protection: Your designs are valuable. Once of the challenges with outsourcing is making sure you retain full rights to your intellectual property. When you send designs to SendCutSend you’re covered under our Privacy Policy which include Privacy Protection and Intellectual Property Rights.
  • Supply Chain Disruptions: When you build parts in-house, you control more of your supply chain. Transferring that manufacturing outside introduces steps in the process outside of your control. Even if everything goes well, there’s still the extra steps of sending the designs out and having the parts shipped in. SendCutSend deals with that in multiple ways. Our instant pricing tool makes ordering parts quick and easy. Drag and drop your designs, select your options and order. We also review designs early in the process and contact customers to discuss any potential concerns before they become a problem. Finally, we include free fast shipping in the United States with optional overnight shipping for rush parts.
  • Communication Barriers: Explaining your designs to someone else can lead to issues. There’s always a risk of losing something in translation. This can slow down the process and even end up in unusable parts showing up at the last minute. SendCutSend uses an automated ordering process. You upload your digital files directly and you select your options from our list of services. To help reduce confusion even further you can upload supporting information such as 3d images.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article gave you a better understanding of some of the things you should consider when researching manufacturing suppliers for your experimental aircraft designs. Keep in mind specialty fabrication shops like SendCutSend with quality materials and professional services to make everything from tools and prototype parts to high quantity production volume batches.
You can browse our website to see everything we offer, utilize our free design tools, read through our huge library of learning resources and if you’re interested get a instant pricing for your parts. If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything else with us, feel free to reach out to our helpful support team.

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We proudly use hardware by PEM

Flush Standoff, 4-40, .250" Zinc plus Clear Chromate

Aluminum: 5052, 6061, 7075 Steel: Mild, G30

SKUSO-440-8
Thread Size4-40 x .250″
Hole size in sheet (+0.003/-.0.000).168″
Minimum sheet thickness0.040″
Maximum sheet thickness.125″
Fastener materialSteel
Minimum distance hole C/L to edge0.230″
When determining the distance between two or more fasteners, you can calculate the distance by the formula, C/L to edge + 1/2 the diameter of the second mounting hole..345″
Recommended panel materialSteel/Aluminum
Coating typeZinc
Length.250″
Aluminum material ranges (5052, 6061, 7075)0.040″-0.125″
Steel material ranges (CRS, HRPO, HR)0.048″-0.119″

We proudly use hardware by PEM

Flush Standoff, 4-40, .250" Passivated

Stainless Steel: 304, 316

SKUSO4-440-8
Thread Size440
Hole size in sheet (+0.003/-.0.000).166″
Minimum sheet thickness0.04″
Maximum sheet thickness.125″
Fastener material400 Stainless Steel
Minimum distance hole C/L to edge0.230″
When determining the distance between two or more fasteners, you can calculate the distance by the formula, C/L to edge + 1/2 the diameter of the second mounting hole. Example shown with x2 of the same hardware..313″
Recommended panel materialStainless Steel
Coating typePassivated
Length.250″
304 Stainless Steel material ranges0.048″-0.125″
316 Stainless Steel material ranges0.060″-0.125″