Will airplanes be safer? Aircraft manufacturers introduce robots to enterprises

    Luise robot at the Airbus plant

    “We will never automate aircraft construction in the same way as the automotive industry, because of the cost of production,” said Jeff Camphaus, a representative of KUKA Systems Aerospace Group. “Certain processes, such as drilling and fixing parts that are very expensive in aircraft manufacturing, can be automated to reduce prices and improve quality.”

    But even robotization of individual processes brings benefits to airlines, while making the aircraft safer and more durable. To be convinced of this, we will be transferred to Airbus and Boeing plants.

    About profitability: aircraft industry and auto industry

    Speaking of robotization, it is impossible to ignore the automotive industry. After all, the first industrial robot appeared at the General Motors plant, and today auto companies are leading in terms of automation. According to IFR (International Federation of Robotics) research, in the Republic of Korea, Canada, the United States and several major European countries, most robots are employed in the automotive industry. Supplies of mechanical workers are constantly growing, and by the end of 2015, they were close to 100 thousand units per year.

    There are several reasons why so many robots work on assembling cars.
    Firstly, the standards for the production of machines of all classes are constantly growing. This is influenced by customer requests and security requirements. Therefore, manufacturers are introducing increasingly strict tolerances for parts and increasingly stringent standards for seams and holes.

    Secondly, the competition in the automotive industry is harsh, therefore, for companies it is important to reduce the marriage: it reduces the cost of production.

    Thirdly, automobile plants produce cars in large batches. For example, "Tesla" in 2017 sold 29,870 cars. The world record set Volkswagen: 10.74 million cars. Therefore, automation in auto enterprises quickly pays off. In the automotive industry, robots are used where high accuracy is important (when assembling engines and bodies) or in dangerous areas of production: in the injection molding machine, in welding lines.

    In aircraft manufacturing, production volumes are significantly lower. For example, Airbus in 2017 delivered 718 aircraft. And the payback period of innovation, respectively, is longer. But robotization has potential here too, because it helps to make planes safer.


    The Luise robot at the Airbus

    Automation Factory is part of the long-term Airbus program, which was first announced in 2015. As reported on the official website of the company, the main efforts today are aimed at introducing collaborative robots that can work side by side with people: Airbus ambitiously declare that it will produce a "revolution in aircraft manufacturing."

    New solutions are planned to be implemented annually. So, in 2015, small robots on wheels appeared in production that could move inside the body of an aircraft under construction safely for people working there. And in May 2016, Airbus, in collaboration with the Tokyo-based Joint Robotics Laboratory, launched a new project: the development of a collaborative humanoid robot. It is assumed that he will be able to perform various technical tasks and work together with people in confined spaces, for example, inside the fuselage.

    The project for the development and implementation of androids is designed for 10-15 years. Small collaborative robots may indeed be more profitable for aircraft than industrial manipulators, because they are more versatile.

    One of the robots of Joint Robotics Laboratory

    In June 2018, two industrial robots, Luise and Renate, appeared at the Airbus facility in Hamburg. These are manipulators on the mobile chassis. They work on the assembly line of the best-selling A320; their function is to drill holes in parts of the fuselage for its further assembly. Not ahead of people in speed, robots are more accurate and ergonomic.

    Luise and Renate are part of a new assembly line: on it, parts of the fuselage are transported not by cranes, but by special platforms. Then they are combined and perfectly aligned with a laser, after which the robots start drilling. The company does not exclude that the same assembly lines may appear at Airbus factories in other cities.

    Airbus also collaborates with KUKA: In 2016, a company that manufactures industrial robots supplied the airline with a transport to move parts of the aircraft. Kuka omniMove automated platforms carry parts of the fuselage that, due to their weight and size, are difficult to move with cranes. Platforms can be assembled into “compositions”, therefore, they are easy to adapt to parts of different lengths.

    In warning workers, Airbus emphasizes that mechanical workers will not replace people and will not deprive them of their jobs, but will only take on routine and physically complex tasks: drilling, fastening, sealing, working with moving heavy objects.


    Boeing, the main competitor of Airbus on the world stage, also introduced several robots at its plants and announced new projects ahead. But the American airline goes its own way and does not invest in the development of new robots, but uses the experience of already well-known robotic companies.

    Boeing Key Partner - KUKA Systems North America LLC; the airline also collaborates with Fanuc and Electroimpact Inc.

    Since 2015, the Boeing factory in Everett (Wash.) Has been operating a unique assembly line for aircraft bodies where KUKA robots work: they assemble the fuselage sections with rivets. Traditionally, this work was done by people, but for a person, the installation of rivets is associated with large shock loads on the hands, because up to 50,000 fasteners are required for each fuselage. And you need to rotate the details of the body of the aircraft so that it was convenient to work with him. KUKA manipulators are able to do the same work with a static fuselage, because they work in tandem: one sets and rivets the fasteners, and the other, inside the case, acts as an anvil. The company also employs Kuka omniMove trolleys.

    Electroimpact Inc is another important partner of Boeing. The company produces robots that can drill holes and install fasteners; their feature is in exceptional accuracy: the deviation is not more than 0.25 mm. Customers of Electroimpact Inc, in addition to Boeing, are Northrop Grumman, Bombardier, Embraer and Xi'an Aircraft Company Limited (all four also make airplanes). And Electroimpact Inc uses robots in the manufacture of composite materials for the aerospace industry: automatic systems Robotic Automated Fiber Placement Cell are laying fibers in the right direction to give the material strength. Fanuc

    robotsBoeing's enterprises are used for drilling, riveting, coating and painting, welding aluminum structures and polishing. But one of the most critical areas of their application is sealing. Medium-sized devices, such as Fanuc M-710iC, use machine vision to find flaws in welds and apply sealant.

    The FANUC P-350iA / 45 robot paints the fuselage.

    Mechanical arms are also used by Spirit AeroSystems, a supplier of components for Boeing. At the company's enterprises, robots are engaged in painting, coating, drilling holes, loading operations. “Only five to ten years ago, there was only one automation in the aerospace industry — user-defined,” said Curtis Richardson, assistant technician at Spirit AeroSystems. “But today the trend in the industry is industrial robotics.” A striking example is the perforation of the cabin of the aircraft, which previously had to be done manually: holes are drilled in the inner lining to suppress engine noise. But now Spirit AeroSystems uses for this purpose a robotic arm that copes with the complex shape of the product.

    Boeing decided to step into the robotization of their competitors. Recently, the research division of the American aero giant, Boeing Research & Technology (BR & T), patented a fully automated fuselage manufacturing plant. At the same time, both robots and body parts of the aircraft will move during production. While the construction of this plant has not begun, but the patent says that the company is fully armed.

    More about robots and hi-tech - on robo-hunter.com .

    Also popular now: