The continued use of composite materials in the aerospace industry has been addressed in several past research projects which have focused on new design solutions and composite manufacturing processes. However an area which has been given much less attention up until now is how to achieve a time and cost effective lean assembly production system.
The current airframe assembly process of composites, metals and hybrid structures is affected by an important number of non-added value operations, which strongly cause disruptions and prevents fast ramp-up and high production rates.
LOCOMACHS will focus on significantly reducing or totally eliminating the existing most time-consuming and hence expensive non-added value operations, e.g. temporary assembly to check gaps, shimming, dismantling and tool handling.
The project will integrate existing technologies with missing breakthrough technologies developed and matured within LOCOMACHS. To support the industrialisation of future assembly production lines, key innovations such as intelligent drilling, high speed non-contact hole inspection, compact automation and active flexible tooling will be demonstrated.
The design and assembly process improvements and breakthrough technologies will be validated on two physical partial wing box demonstrators, a virtual fuselage section demonstrator and additionally a virtual demonstrator showing a complete wing structure in the context of the next generation lean production flow.
Low-cost assembly of aircraft composites
Faster and more cost-efficient assembly of composite structures is a key enabler of high-rate production. New advancements from the product design phase to assembly of structural parts should help ramp up production.
Although use of composites is a step forward in aircraft performance, their assembly is far more challenging compared to their metal-based counterparts. In http://www.locomachs.eu/ (LOCOMACHS) (Low cost manufacturing and assembly of composite and hybrid structures), 31 partners representing the entire European supply chain focus on decreasing non-value-added operations that consume time and induce costs. The target is to decrease recurring shimming costs by 50 %, as well as dismantling and assembly costs by 30 %.
To simplify the assembly process, scientists are designing more integrated structures with fewer interfaces between parts. Robots collaborating with people facilitate the moving and positioning of parts in areas that are hard to access. Development of flexible assembly tooling will help accommodate variations in part geometry.
Scientists are demonstrating several faster non-destructive inspection technologies such as laser ultrasonics. Using lasers to generate and detect ultrasonic waves, this technique can be integrated into the automation process. The focus is on fully understanding how to use this technology through physical modelling, adaptation to industrial lean manufacturing and improvement of its capabilities.
With the goal of increasing automation in assembly, scientists are looking at several ways robots can be used. They are demonstrating compact automation by developing a robotic end-effector for one-shot drilling of hybrid composite/metallic stacks. This robotic end-effector will both clamp and drill the part. The drilling conditions using hybrid stacks have been tested to determine optimum working conditions for the end-effector.
Work on human-robot collaboration is geared towards the development of safe solutions for co-working operations. To this end, scientists are preparing a multi-camera vision system using Microsoft Kinect motion-sensing systems. They have identified two assembly tasks to demonstrate robots collaborating with humans. In the first one, the operator performs assembly operations on a work piece while a robot keeps the work piece in position. In the other task, the operator and the robot perform separate operations in a sequence on the same work piece.
Immediate and major impact is expected on the EU aerospace manufacturing industry through enhanced manufacturing and assembly of new aircraft entering the production phase.