S.S. White Flaunts Its Flexshafts at Farnborough for the First Time

Farnborough Air Show » 2012
July 8, 2012, 4:00 AM

While certainly some professional attendees at this year’s Farnborough International Airshow must know what a flexible rotary shaft is and what it can do, there’s a good chance that many, if not most, visitors do not. So, S.S. White Technologies, Inc. (SSWT), a first-time Farnborough exhibitor (Hall 4 Stand 4), is here to shed some light on its main product.

In fact, there are very few powered aircraft in the world that don’t use at least one SSWT flexible rotary shaft, according to Brian Parlato, SSWT’s vice president of sales and marketing, who is attending the show along with Steve Grimes, head of the company’s UK facility.

Tracing its roots to a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania tooth factory founded by Dr. Samuel Stockton White in 1844, S.S. White began making flexible rotary shafts for dentist’s drills in 1874. The privately owned company is now headquartered in Piscataway, New Jersey, and has other manufacturing facilities in Milton Keynes, England, and Wadhwan, India. The company made its first flexible shafts for aircraft in 1917 and claims to be the leading supplier of flexshafts for all applications, including those for aerospace.

The two main aviation applications of SSWT’s flexible shafts are for engine thrust reversers and wing flaps and slats. For the former, the flexshafts drive and synchronize the linear actuators that operate the thrust-reverser doors on the jet engines. For the other application, the shafts perform similar functions for the flaps and slats on commuter-size commercial jets, such as the Embraer 175. A typical flap-and-slat configuration requires five flexible shafts on each wing.

In addition, SSWT makes the small, flexible cables that drive tachometers. “So any aircraft that has a tachometer in it is probably going to have an S.S. White flex shaft,” Parlato told AIN.

SSWT’s other main enterprise is building components for the aerospace industry, which the company evolved from its design and fabrication of flexshafts for cars, using computer numerical control (CNC) machines at its facility in India. Last year the company delivered more than 25 million flexible shafts to the automotive market. Capitalizing on this experience, SSWT has “transferred its knowledge of high-quality, tight-tolerance CNC machining and started making all of the components that go into our aerospace assemblies,” explained Parlato. With its 32 CNC machines, SSWT is now producing components for other aerospace companies.

Here in Farnborough, S.S. White Technologies is introducing its new Flexcellant lubricant, which will increase the time between lubrication intervals of its flexible rotary shafts from about one and a half years to at least five years, Parlato said. “Maintenance cost of the shafts is significant, because it is often hard to get to the shafts in the aircraft and re-greasing the shafts is an involved job,” he explained.

A proprietary process, Flexcellant uses a dry-film lubricant (not Teflon, but similar) and a high-temperature aerospace grease. The lubricant has passed endurance tests for the life of the shaft, which is designed and tested to last the life of the aircraft, as long as the shafts are maintained. Because Flexcellant is a new product, the company plans to recommend that the Flexcellant-lubricated shafts be serviced every five years.

SSWT is also introducing its new website at Farnborough and plans announce a “big contract award,” said Parlato.

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