In the past, aerospace manufacturers were not the first to jump on the automation bandwagon. Unlike the mass-production nature of other industries (automotive for instance), aerospace manufacturers deal in low production volumes and high-stakes, specialized components. But as automation ushers in advantages in every sector—and every aspect of operations—things are changing. Aerospace manufacturers are identifying automation applications that work for their specific needs, and reaping the benefits. Read on to see four automation applications that are really taking off in aerospace manufacturing.
Heavy-duty mobile robots
One of the biggest strains on aerospace manufacturers (and their employees) is the sheer size of the parts. Depending on the application, this can make permanent robotic fixtures and traditional assembly line automation difficult or impossible. That’s where heavy-duty autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) come in.
Eagle Technologies says it has worked with Aerospace manufacturers to integrate “large, heavy-payload robots manufactured by Fanuc, Yaskawa, and ABB that move components that weigh hundreds of pounds,” and which can perform a variety of other tasks. This, thanks in large part to vast improvements in the vision and handling technology of these AMRs over the last several years.
Sophisticated vision-guided robotics
Aerospace parts can be exceedingly complex, and the quality standards are sky high. This causes two issues: first, excessive training, certification and documentation requirements only for employees to burnout during dull, monotonous assembly tasks; and second, inevitable human error inflates costs related to time and scrapped parts.
These were the issues facing one aerospace part supplier, who teamed up with automation integrator SYSTEMATIX to design a robotic cell for its complex manufacturing needs. The manufacturer implemented sophisticated Kawasaki robots and 3D vision products for the installation of nutplates—irregular parts with over 200 variations that hold the external skin of the aircraft to the frame. The implementation has drastically shortened cycle times, increased quality and ultimately reduced costs.
In addition to installation, these vision-guided automation technologies are powering hole-drilling tasks—one of the more common, high-volume use cases in aerospace manufacturing, and one which has served as the gateway to increasing automation in the industry.
Painting and coating robots
Aerospace manufacturing has its fair share of dangerous tasks—from welding and drilling to moving heavy, massive parts. Automation is helping to de-risk these activities, including painting and coating. Because of the hazardous nature of many of these coating materials, it’s a prime job to delegate to robots; plus, automation can ensure coatings are applied evenly and to exact specifications—a vital qualification.
IoT, AI and machine learning
The high-stakes nature of aerospace manufacturing leaves no room for error. So it’s good news that advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT), AI and machine learning are helping improve production and quality control while keeping costs down. Robotic non-destructive ultrasonic testing and inspection, for example, can help greatly improve the efficiency of quality-control processes. New deep learning developments come into play here, making it possible for AI and vision systems to inspect more like humans— identifying the presence of surface scratches, for example.
IoT technologies, meanwhile, allow robots (AMRs or static cells) to communicate and even report back on data to improve operations.
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