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Vans have made a big boo-boo: laser cut holes

In early 2022, Van’s expanded their production capacity by having a lot of parts laser-cut instead of the traditional CNC punch method. They used the lasers not only to cut the parts out, but to cut the rivet holes.

Those who claim to know the ins and outs of certified aircraft manufacture say that laser on aluminium is a total no-no unless the ‘heat affected area’ is subsequently removed by mechanical means. Thus unworkable for rivet holes.

It has also been stated that if cutting a hole with a laser one must start at the centre and spiral out to the edge, because the start of the cut is where the laser makes a mess. It seems here the opposite was done, and Van’s has shipped a large number of parts with very messy holes quite evidently cut the ‘wrong’ way.

A considerable number of vital parts are being recalled, principally spars that are already buried deep in completed assemblies (fins, tailplanes, elevators, rudders, wings, fuselages). Van’s has said it will replace the parts, but nothing about the necessary rework. Some builders are now faced with entire completed assemblies that are effectively scrap.

They are working evenings and weekends to resolve this, but is it recoverable? It has been asked on the VAF forum whether the company can survive this.

Last Edited by Graham at 15 Jul 23:51
EGLM & EGTN

Playing the devils advocate: At the end of the day, I as a builder am responsible for the quality of parts used in the manufacturing process, that includes checking if the material received from (any) supplier meets (my own) quality standards. It’s my build, my brand, I would be flying it and the life of my family would depend on the decisions I take during the build.

Graham wrote:

Those who claim to know the ins and outs of certified aircraft manufacture say that laser on aluminium is a total no-no unless the ‘heat affected area’ is subsequently removed by mechanical means. Thus unworkable for rivet holes.

AFAIK in 2021 Vans purchased their own fatigue testing equipment and assessed that laser cut parts are good to go.

Graham wrote:

Some builders are now faced with entire completed assemblies that are effectively scrap.

One can say that every homebuild should be scrapped because it’s uncertified and therefore unsafe and therefore causes public safety risk
Seriously, having read the documentation provided by Vans I see absolutely no evidence support the statement that any assembly should be scrapped if it was build as per plans. From Vans’s email sent out this morning:

We are conducting extensive tests of parts with holes containing cracks and notches, because cracks could potentially be present in holes that make it into the field. Therefore, we need to understand the real-world impact: how and when cracks form, how and whether cracks may propagate, and what the actual results of any propagation might be. Initial testing indicated that laser-cut parts had a lifespan very close to that of punched parts (and well beyond the expected necessary lifespan of an airplane).

Why would anyone use a part with cracks and notches is beyond me! It’s a scrap. Period. An old saying: show me your scrap bag and I would tell you the quality of your build
For the record, I’m not trying to downplay the risks, just trying to look at it from a different angle based on what we know today

Poland

@RV14 while I agree with your sentiment generally about our responsibility as builders, many people complained to Vans about these parts and were told it was no issue, to build on, and to clean up the holes with a file if necessary (how many holes on an aeroplane?!) Requests for replacement parts were refused.

They may have done their own testing and decided they were good to go, but now they’ve done a 180. Now Vans is replacing any/all laser cut parts on request, and instructing that they be replaced in a multitude of critical applications. That’s a fairly major quality failing, whichever angle you come at it from.

EGLM & EGTN

This of course has been, for the past couple of weeks, a very popular subject on VAF RV reference forum…

Vans is effectively to be booed at for the lack of QC. These externally produced parts were shipped back to Vans, before being delivered to the customers. How could Vans not inspect/detect/eliminate the flaws on these parts? Interesting times ahead for sure…

PS
Vans Aircraft have an updated Info Page

Last Edited by Dan at 16 Jul 07:34
Dan
ain't the Destination, but the Journey
LSZF, Switzerland

Graham wrote:

They may have done their own testing and decided they were good to go, but now they’ve done a 180

180 of what exactly? To me it looks like a 180 of replacing parts for those who want to replace them, not a 180 about the parts being good enough (unless they obviously aren’t, but that is business as usual for any builder).

Van’s has done a few odd things through the years. The anodized spars for instance, and now this laser cutting. What kind of aluminium are we talking about here? is it 2024 sheet (alclad) ?

The main problem here is that builders get the impression that kit manufacturers have done most of the work so the builder don’t have to. This also includes all the research and testing needed up front regarding every conceivable detail of the manufacturing of the kit and usability of parts. Thus, the (first time) builder who usually has no competence whatsoever, can rest assured that he don’t need that competence because the kit manufacturer is a super expert guru. For the most part, this is essentially true, but legally it is the builder who is the sole responsible for the manufacturing of his individual aircraft, and every single detail of it. The only exception is when installing certified equipment, like for instance radio and transponder, which for other reasons cannot be found in non-certified versions, not for use in Europe.

The kit manufacturer has no other obligation than to deliver parts as agreed up front. If those parts will be used in an aircraft is irrelevant at that point. It is the builder who has to make sure the part is good enough to be used in his aircraft. Both the kit manufacturer and the builder have a main incentive assuring the parts are good. In reality however, the kit manufacturer also has lots of other stuff that interfere, like making money, capacity, man power and so on. Believing that the kit manufacturer is this super expert guru is therefore a fallacy, and is the main reason certification exists in the first place.

Ignorance is bliss I guess, until it suddenly isn’t

The elephant is the circulation
ENVA ENOP ENMO, Norway

Does anyone have a close-up pic of a laser-cut hole?

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Graham wrote:

They may have done their own testing and decided they were good to go, but now they’ve done a 180.

@Graham, I would not jump to conclusions. The decisions, when they had said parts ware good to go, ware individual ones, as I understand and as I hope based on individual engineering analysis. Then the corresponding photos appeared on the internet and everyone was free to interpret and generalise Vans’s individual decisions.

Let me give you an example: if an aviation OEM damages a part worth say a million dollars then this part is not scraped but analysed and assessed by dedicated engineering team based in some low wage county like Poland. It the damage is found to be acceptable this part is re-certiffied and used during the manufacturing proces. “Competent authorities” of the world are happy with the proces. Vans is no different

Let’s take a different perspective, Flight chops messed their RV14 build badly. I certainly would correct it, but they asked Vans engineering and got an OK, build on. Who am I to argue?

We simply don’t know how much margin is in those airplanes, they are know to fly well half riveted and held by clecos

Last Edited by RV14 at 16 Jul 08:19
Poland

LeSving wrote:

The kit manufacturer has no other obligation than to deliver parts as agreed up front. If those parts will be used in an aircraft is irrelevant at that point. It is the builder who has to make sure the part is good enough to be used in his aircraft.

Sure, but if the agreement is that the part should be fit for use in aircraft – as is certainly the case with Van’s – them the manufacturer does have an obligation that the parts are indeed fit for purpose.

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

Airborne_Again wrote:

Sure, but if the agreement is that the part should be fit for use in aircraft – as is certainly the case with Van’s

that’s debatable I’m afraid, Van’s would sell you components clearly marked by manufacturer “don’t use in aircraft”
it’s your call…

Poland

The demonstrably HAVE done a 180 in that they are no longer producing laser cut parts and aren’t shipping them anymore.

My perspective is less as an engineer or a builder, more as a customer.

EGLM & EGTN
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