RCBI helps aerospace company overcome supply chain shortages

With technical expertise from the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI), a major aerospace company with a large presence in West Virginia is able to produce the difficult-to-find replacement parts it needs to refurbish popular regional jets.

Introduced in 2001, the Bombardier CRJ-700 regional jet quickly became a popular choice for airlines that fly commuter routes. Although the CRJ-700 is no longer produced, a great many are still in service and are expected to continue flying for the foreseeable future.

In 2020, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries acquired the CRJ series program from Canada-based Bombardier. The $550 million deal included the purchase of maintenance, repair and overhaul operations which included facilities in Bridgeport, West Virginia, as well as Tucson, Arizona, The West Virginia operation is now an integral part of MHIRJ Aviation.

John Moon, manager of component repair and overhaul at the Bridgeport facility, was struggling to find replacement parts when he reached out to the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) for assistance.

“We needed to reverse engineer a sidewall so we could make a mold to support the sidewall structure in our vacuum machine for replacing the laminate,” said Moon, who was familiar the manufacturing services offered by RCBI.

“Morgan Smith, design engineer at RCBI, had aided us a couple of times in the past and so I figured maybe he could help us resolve our panel problem.”

“John Moon brought a body panel down to us here in Huntington,” Smith said. “We scanned it to capture the geometry and cleaned up the file to create a CAD (computer-assisted-design) drawing of the part. We then machined a foam core that could be used to make a mold.

“Next we connected Moon with Brian Alley at Carbon Fiber Composites in Ona, a long-time client of RCBI. The custom-parts manufacturer then fabricated the mold from carbon fiber. Now MHIRJ can use the mold to produce the part on its vacuum former.”

One of RCBI’s primary goals is to connect small manufacturers such as Carbon Fiber Composites with larger corporate concerns. “The assistance we rendered MHIRJ Aviation is an almost textbook example of how we forge that kind of connection, adding new links to a strong supply chain of quality manufacturers,” Smith said.

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