Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Robots are coming to aircraft assembly

Date:
September 19, 2011
Source:
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
Summary:
Up to now, aircraft have been put together in huge assembly cells, but to build the necessary facilities is expensive and time-consuming. That is why researchers have come up with a flexible assembly-line concept that features robots working in the same way they do in automotive production. One of this future assembly line's elements is a versatile component gripper made of lightweight CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic).

Robots are coming to aircraft assembly.
Credit: Image courtesy of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Up until now, aircraft have been put together in huge assembly cells, but to build the necessary facilities is expensive and time-consuming. That is why Fraunhofer researchers have come up with a flexible assembly-line concept that features robots working in the same way they do in automotive production. The developers are presenting their new manufacturing approach at the Composites Europe trade fair in Stuttgart in Hall 4, Booth D03. One of this future assembly line's first elements can also be seen there: a versatile component gripper made of lightweight CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic).

Aircraft parts are simply enormous. Individual fuselage segments alone can measure ten meters or more. But they need to be fitted together with the utmost precision. The maximum deviation from plan that aircraft manufacturers can tolerate is 0.2 millimeters -- on components that weigh several metric tons. To position the giant parts accurately, manufacturers rely on massive production facilities known as assembly cells. These are huge gantries that move along the fuselage like container cranes on steel rails and massive concrete foundations, for instance bolting aluminum parts together. It takes a lot of money and effort to build this kind of assembly cell -- and they need to be built from scratch for each new kind of aircraft, which pushes their production and construction costs even higher.

This state of affairs calls for automation concepts and facilities to make aircraft assembly -- and in particular high-precision drilling, milling and adhesive bonding -- simpler, more flexible and more economical in the future. And that is exactly what developers in the Fraunhofer Project Group Joining and Assembly FFM at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM, Bremen, are working on at the research center CFK Nord in Stade. Theirs is a totally new assembly philosophy: Aircraft will in future be machined -- and their parts increasingly bonded together -- by a host of small industrial robots, much as we see in today's automotive sector. Dr. Dirk Niermann, head of the Fraunhofer FFM, and his team of developers have come up with a design for a suitable facility that would replace the common assembly cell: They envision fuselage segments, tail fin and wings sitting atop a kind of rolling assembly line and being carried past one-armed robots, akin to automotive production methods. These robots then work at various points on the parts in succession to bond, drill and mill them as they pass. Of course, a facility of this kind would still need to be tailored to each new aircraft type, but the installation costs incurred would be significantly lower.

At the Composites Europe 2011 trade fair from September 27 to 29 (Hall 4, Booth D03), the scientists from Stade will be presenting the first key element of their new assembly line: a gripper that can deal flexibly with various geometries of aircraft component. "Aircraft are made up of shells of varying curvatures, and a gripper system has to be able to adjust accordingly," says Niermann. This is done using configurable arrays of suction pads that sit on robust joints. The suction pads are mounted on a framework structure made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic that is both sturdy and considerably lighter than metal. Thanks to its low mass, industrial robots can position the gripper and the component with exceptional precision.

The gripper concept might seem only too simple, but in fact handling the components is a real challenge. Once they are put together, the dimensions of these large aircraft parts can deviate from plan by up to several millimeters as a consequence of their being fitted to the fuselage. Up to now, the fitting of these components into the fuselage has been painstakingly done by experienced technicians working on the assembly cell. The parts are sometimes even compressed or bent slightly in order not to breach the overall 0.2 millimeter tolerance. In future, it will be up to the robots and the gripper to achieve this. "That's why we're developing a high-precision recognition system to measure the components exactly during assembly," says Niermann.

This is combined with powerful software that takes fractions of a second to calculate the precise position in which the robot has to hold the workpiece to make everything fit together perfectly. However, there is one more challenge: Aluminum, the classic aircraft material, is increasingly being replaced by CFRP. But, unlike aluminum sheeting, CRFP components are unyielding during assembly, so they sometimes need to be assembled under tension. While technicians have developed a feel for how much tension is permissible, which allows them to assemble these parts manually, robots don't know how to do this yet. Nonetheless, Niermann and his colleagues are certain that they will have an initial demonstration facility up and running around three years from now.

The gripper can already be seen at Composites Europe, and the Fraunhofer Project Group Joining and Assembly FFM is also presenting its entire robotic aircraft assembly concept there.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. "Robots are coming to aircraft assembly." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110919113641.htm>.
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. (2011, September 19). Robots are coming to aircraft assembly. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110919113641.htm
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. "Robots are coming to aircraft assembly." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110919113641.htm (accessed August 28, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) Qantas and Virgin say passengers can use their smartphones and tablets throughout flights after a regulator relaxed a ban on electronic devices during take-off and landing. As Hayley Platt reports the move comes as the two domestic rivals are expected to post annual net losses later this week. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 26, 2014) Huge waves generated by Hurricane Marie hit the Southern California coast. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) Chinese researchers have expanded on Cold War-era tech and are closer to building a submarine that could reach the speed of sound. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) An acute coal shortage is likely to be aggravated as India's supreme court declared government coal allocations illegal, says Breakingviews' Peter Thal Larsen. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins