Van’s Aircraft Addresses Cracking Reports in Kits Due to Laser-Cutting Changes

Van’s Aircraft Addresses Cracking Reports in Kits Due to Laser-Cutting Changes

Van’s Aircraft, in response to recent reports of cracking in dimpled parts from some of its kits, addressed the issue at AirVenture on Tuesday morning. The company identified that the defects resulted from changes in the laser-cutting process by an outside vendor. Starting from February 2022 until June 2023, Van’s shifted certain parts from traditional punch-press manufacturing to an external vendor capable of laser-cutting rivet holes. The intention was to improve throughput, reduce lead times, and manage kit deliveries more efficiently. The outsourced parts were mainly thinner and found in low-stress and non-critical sections of the airframe. However, as issues arose, Van’s ceased using the laser-cut parts for this application and invested in a larger press-punch machine to boost factory productivity.

The root cause of the cracking appears to be a change in the way the parts were cut. Initially, the laser followed a "pretzel" cutting path—starting in the center, moving to the periphery, and returning to the center. The vendor, however, changed the cutting path, causing a portion of the metal to overheat. This led to defects becoming apparent after the hole was dimpled, particularly concerning given the considerable flush riveting used in RV aircraft.

During a presentation, Rian Johnson, Van’s president, and chief engineer elaborated on the ongoing testing conducted to assess the impact of the defects. The company found that the most loaded part of the flush rivet was around the outer edge of the dimple, and the cracks didn't necessarily originate or end at the laser defect.

For RV builders, especially those working on RV-10 and RV-14 models, certain parts will be deemed suitable for low-stress locations, while others, like tail-surface spars, may require replacement. Van’s has advised builders to halt construction with the laser-cut parts temporarily. Johnson urged patience to allow the company to complete its extensive testing, estimated to take 45 to 60 days, before making any further decisions. Van’s is also preparing a process to provide builders with replacement parts once the assessments are finalized.
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