European industry is constantly under pressure to meet requirements on cost efficiency in competitiveness with the global manufacturing industry. The requirements on development in production also depends on the demands on new product introduction, new materials used, new regulations on environmental effects resulting from production. At the same time, it is a fact that the products produced in the aeronautical industry are products produced in relatively low volumes which will be in operation for 30 years, and sometimes even longer, before they go out of service. This puts strong demands on the equipment specification when making new investments in the production units.
The main task of this project is to create a balanced production unit that is able to deliver a multi-generation, multi-size and multi-product flow of components in the same production facility using and prioritising between the same physical machines.
In the automotive sector automation technology has been developed over a long period of time. It is the intention of this project to utilise the state-of-the-art technology developed in the automotive area and to improve the aspect of flexibility, low volume, multi-product and quality assurance aspects.
The main objective of the project was to create the tools, methods and technologies needed to define, prepare and validate an automated flexible cell that can manufacture a generic process chain allowing for safe human interaction and deliver quality assured parts for the European aerospace industry.
To meet the requirements of flexibility, cost effectiveness and quality assurance the concept of the project will be to;
- Validate methods and technologies for virtual manufacturing supporting definition, preparation and operation of flexible automation cells.
- Define and verify requirements on quality assurance systems that will allow flexible automation cells to conform to aerospace industry regulations.
- Integrate data flow inside the cell as well as in and out of the cell by introducing a Web-based data flow system that supports a truly virtual and distributed working environment.
- Deliver tools that support knowledge engineering demands in shop floor activities with experience feedback to product innovation activity.
- Validate capability of defined cell concept by building a physical validation platform.
- Deliver education and safety instructions for personnel that will operate next generation flexible automation cells.
The project was divided into six different work packages (including five technical work packages and one management work package).
Results WP1 - System architecture and design:
- Cell definition
- Specifications for the FLEXA demonstration cells including
- Components and processes within the cells and
- Cell layouts for both demonstrator cells
Results WP2 - Knowledge engineering:
- A flexible cell controller was realised and demonstrated
- A common interface for communication between automation resources was developed
- An integrated system from planning to production was developed
Results WP3 - Preparation, virtual verification and quality assurance:
Methods and tools for:
- Automatic generation of PLC code.
- Simulation model generation
- Generating operation sequences in early preparation phases
- A new wizard holon was also developed
Results WP4 - Cell integration:
- One demonstrator manufacturing cell that included grinding, deburring and measuring operations
- One demonstrator manufacturing cell that included welding and non-destructive testing
- an extended DNC (Direct Numerical Control) system
- A system for training operators by means of an innovative augmented reality methods
Results WP5 - Human interaction and restart:
- Supporting tools for restart by augmented reality (AR) i.e.
- AR tools for operator training and support during preparation and restart
- Methods and tools that enable pro-active handling of failure recovery (restart)
The enabling technologies from these five examples have been estimated within the FLEXA consortium to have the following quantitative impacts:
1. 30% lower product cost.
2. 2 times increased production rate with same process equipment.
3. 25% less scrap during component manufacturing.
The project has delivered both a direct and indirect impact on the goal of halving the time-to-market estimated as:
1. 20% decrease in manufacturing preparation lead time.
2. 50% fewer prototypes in manufacturing preparation phases.
3. 15% less scrap during component development.
FLEXA has developed the next generation production environment from an automation and flexibility perspective by introducing flexible automation and intelligent simulation tools that significantly can reduce installation time, time to reconfigure production and productivity.
The simulation platform that has been developed can be used immediately by the case-study partners. The modular, generic and standardized nature of the developed platforms will allow them to be exploited in not just aero-engine manufacturing but also in a wide range of other applications such as machining and welding.