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Aerospace Industry


and it requires specialized technicians,” said Flynn, two cost items airframe manufacturers need to reduce. In response, the company created an automated system for


tooling recertifications. Tey used a combination of existing technologies—laser trackers, low-cost targets, and metrol- ogy soſtware—engineered into a simple-to-use system. While specific times for recertification measurements were set not to exceed a few hours, the real goal of the Automated Measure- ment System (AMS) was to enable nonspecialist operators of the assembly tool to perform the task.


instruments in an exact location, with special pre-determined floor mounts. “At that point, you can push a button and have the device start measuring points,” he said, a simple example of how smart design leads to automation. Tis is especially true for soſtware as well. Tis means in-


tegrators writing graphical user interfaces, with all-important error trapping, on top of sophisticated metrology soſtware. Tis turns soſtware programs like Spatial Analyzer from New River Kinematics into tools for day-to-day operators, accord- ing to Ryan. “Tis is becoming a common process in airframe manufacturing,” he said.


Evolving Technology How does Ryan, with over 30 years of experience in indus-


trial metrology, see the future of airframe assembly? “Today, the benchmark for metrology is the laser tracker,” said Ryan. Workers put targets on either the mating tooling or the parts themselves, enabling part-to-part mating automation. However, if you cannot use targets, or have too many


A lightweight, small, drilling robot guided through metrology is an approach that Nikon metrology is pursuing as an optimum use of flexible, reconfigurable robots.


A laser tracker requires a precisely planted target to reflect a


laser beam, such as a prism or Spherically Mounted Retroreflec- tors (SMR). Te AMS system used both permanently installed targets as well as temporary, replaceable targets. Placing tem- porary targets is time consuming and only used when higher accuracy is required. However, with the help of soſtware and routines on the laser tracker itself, every-day operators are fully capable of placing these targets, said Ray Ryan, vice president of East Coast Metrology (Topsfield, MA), a partner in the project. Specialists are not needed. Te project reported a test measur- ing a large commercial wing jig in less than eight hours—much less than the week or so, it took before. While existing technology, like laser trackers, provides


the needed speed and accuracy, “the sophistication of the metrology equipment that exists does not make it easy to modify,” he explained. “You need to adjust the process to fit the equipment.” For example, the traditional method of using a laser tracker was to place it at random on the factory floor, and then measure a series of points to locate the instrument in the aircraſt coordinates—then use it for measurement or guided assembly. Automating the process requires putting


108 Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing 2013


features to check that makes targeting impractical, he recom- mends the next technology to investigate is Laser Radar (LIDAR). “It is not quite as accurate, but provides much more data,” he said, and given that it is 2–3× more expensive in gen- eral compared to laser trackers, the application must require the unique broad area of the LIDAR. Indoor GPS (iGPS) from Nikon Metrology is another key enabling technology, used for locating other sensors or used directly in certain assem- bly operations. “For the future, I see the sensor—whatever it might be—becoming more affordable, more reliable, cheaper, and faster,” said Ryan. Combinations of sensors are another approach some


integrators are taking. In the search for fully autonomous measurement, SURVICE Engineering (Belcamp, MD) married a photogrammetry system to a Nikon MV 330 laser radar. “Under an Air Force research grant, we are enhancing the laser radar by integrating a metrology-grade photogrammetry system with computer-vision technology to create a fully- autonomous metrology system,” explained Mark Butkiewicz from SURVICE. “Te goal is to make it accessible to the nonspecialist in aircraſt manufacturing.” Te MV330/350 laser radar measures to about 25 µm of accuracy (to 2 sigma) at 2 m and collects about 4000 points per second. “Te laser radar is programmable to take automated measurements,” said But- kiewicz. “However, it takes an expert to operate it and there is a certain amount of setup time every time you reposition the unit.” To make it more autonomous, the computer vision kit consisting of a stereo digital camera is fitted to the Nikon laser radar. Te vision system will examine each cost center, the areas where different parts or stages of the airframe are being assembled. “Te vision system then automatically recognizes where it is and what it is looking at. It will then perform a pre- programmed script to measure what is needed for that opera-


Image courtesy Nikon Metrology


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