The New Golden Age of Small-Quantity, High-Quality Aircraft Parts Production: What Is It, And What’s Making It Happen?

Second In A Series of Articles

by Ed Leineweber
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2019 issue

In the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, I introduced Tromblay Tool, LLC to epitomize what I called the “New Golden Age of Small-Quantity Parts Production.” That article, the first in a series I intend to write on this fascinating topic, touched briefly upon one small company capitalizing on this rapidly-evolving phenomenon, to the benefit of all segments of aviation, but especially to those of us interested in vintage, experimental or kit-built aircraft. My purpose in this second article is to begin to explore the confluence of various developments which have contributed to the rise of this New Golden Age.

Adam Morrison is a mechanical/aeronautical engineer based in Franklin, Indiana, just southeast of Indianapolis. His firm is Streamline Designs (https://enablingflight.com). While currently experiencing rapid growth and expansion into several areas of aircraft design, production and certification, Adam positions the firm as providing strategic consultation, alongside design and technical services, primarily for “things that fly.” With more than 20 years of aeronautical engineering experience, Adam looks back on the first 10 to 12 years, which focused mainly on the experimental and light sport segment of the aviation industry, and forward to the expanding scope of activities which now finds Streamline Designs moving quickly into general aviation and unmanned aircraft systems (drones).

The staff at Streamline Designs includes four engineers, including Adam and his wife, Marcie, and a technical writer. Three of the engineers are graduates of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which for years has consistently been rated as the best undergraduate engineering school in the nation. This small firm clearly has the potential for making significant contributions to this New Golden Age and is experiencing great success while doing so.

I first met Adam in his role as the chair of the ASTM Light Sport Aircraft Consensus Standards Committee known as F37. This is the committee, along with its numerous subcommittees, that initially developed and continues to monitor and improve the industry consensus standards under which all Light Sport Aircraft are manufactured, operated and maintained.

The extensive knowledge and experience Adam gained in this work led him naturally into involvement in the similar processes being employed in the revisions to FAR Part 23, the federal regulations under which Standard Category “certified” aircraft are produced and flown. From there it was a natural step into the additional realms of drones, avionics and defense and transport category aircraft certification consulting.

New Golden Age?

I admit that referring to this topic as a “New Golden Age” is an imperfect and perhaps even deceiving way of describing the phenomena I have in mind. Adam suggested that perhaps calling it the “digital golden age” might better describe the subject and avoid the possible inference of it being “old fashioned,” rather than cutting edge. But the confluence of factors which is contributing to this sweet spot in rapid and accelerating technological advancement, really is reminiscent of a similar period in aviation during the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Although the new technology today is primarily digital, the synergistic effects of these developments are creating an explosion of advancing products, as earlier technology did back then, propelling the aviation industry and related markets forward at an astonishing pace. And we are probably only in the early stages of this rapid advancement.

So, what are these factors? Here’s a list of some of them:

•  Affordable, easy-to-use Computer Aided Design (CAD) software tools.
•  Newer, more easily programed Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines.
•  Connected and networked factories.
•  Associated reductions in labor inputs and price.
•  Specialization culture versus mass production.
•  Rapid prototyping and on-demand production capabilities.
•  Reduced cost of machines with good capability.
•  Open-source tools and methods.
•  Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding access to start-up capital.
•  Agile product management making its way into hardware production.
•  Emergence of additive versus subtractive manufacturing.
  The availability of on-demand services and the gig economy.
  The expanding use of industry consensus standards as a means of accelerating the pace of new product certification.

Those of us who have been involved in aviation for a long time know well the painstakingly slow and extremely expensive processes by which new aviation products achieve certification, and how this has resulted in the aviation industry lagging in the adoption of new technology and production methods. All signs now indicate that things are changing, and the future is likely to see rapid innovation, cheaper prices and a stream of new aircraft and aeronautical products coming to market. These developments can enable us to produce some of our own parts at home, small shops to keep vintage aircraft flying, and kit companies to roll out affordable, state-of-the art personal aircraft, among other opportunities.

In future articles in this series, Adam Morrison and I will describe in detail each of the factors listed above, and how they interact to produce the phenomenon I believe is well described as the New Golden Age of Small-Quantity, High-Quality Parts Production. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, readers are encouraged to suggest other candidates in the Midwest for future articles in this series. Suggestions may be forwarded to Ed Leineweber at eleineweber@leineweberlaw.com, or call 608-604-6515.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ed Leineweber is licensed to practice law in Wisconsin. Now, mostly retired from the legal profession, including 20 years as a circuit court judge, Ed focuses his limited practice in aviation law and alternative dispute resolution, including mediation. As a pilot for nearly 40 years, aircraft owner, Certified Flight Instructor, licensed aviation maintenance technician, former fixed base operator, airport manager, and FAA Safety Team member, Ed is experienced in most aspects of general aviation. When not practicing law, he enjoys working in his shop at the airport on aircraft restorations and on his aircraft kit company.

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