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from the machining pallet. “This was unheard of even five years ago,” Bell said. “Now these types of operations take place on most new system designs.” Many of Fastems aerospace customers are looking for help solving problems in hard metal machining automation for large components, Bell said. “Fastems can integrate machining centers no matter how large the raw materials and workpieces. Another challenge we are solving is multi- process machining without removal from fixtures, helping customers maintain proprietary processes without handling the machined components between operations.”


Moving Massive Parts Making aircraft production rates also means eliminat- ing some of the large monument fixtures and minimizing the time-consuming crane moves often required with large airframes. With the latest automated guided vehicles (AGV) from automation developer Fori Automation Inc. (Shelby Township, MI), aircraft builders can lower costs associated with delays for crane moves, while gaining precision positioning with new servo-controlled AGVs, which also include auto-leveling technology that helps ensure accuracy. “What they’re really looking for is flexible automation,” said Martin Erni, director, business development, Fori Au- tomation. “For drill and fill, there’s been super-large fixed cells, but in the future, it’ll be more a flexible line. Whoever builds the drill and fill equipment will have to either be flexible or get out of the way.”


With its flexible AGVs, Fori typically handles transpor- tation of the drill units. “Instead of the monuments, they’re now switching to autonomous vehicles,” Erni said. “It is very practical to move the robot along the wing.” Robots mounted on Fori’s AGVs are able to hold the


high precision required on drilling applications, said Paul Meloche, Fori’s vice president, sales. “It’s bet- ter to move the equipment to the part, just because of precision,” Meloche said. These AGVs have locking and docking anchors, and are equipped with Fori’s preci- sion motion control using the company’s controls and encoders with its drive and steer systems, he added. “We can be accurate to ±3 mm,” he said, “with a 40–50’ [12.2–15.2-m] workpiece.” With increased requirements for positioning, the AGVs have floor bushings that increase the accuracy to 0.005” (0.127 mm) and allow auto-leveling the platform, Erni


said. The company has provided such systems for Brown Aerospace, supplying aircraft built by Spirit AeroSystems. These systems transport large workpieces weighing as much as 110,000 lb (49,500 kg), moving it between stages of manufacturing including to and from autoclaves. “Prior to using this, it would have been a very time-consuming process with an overhead crane,” Erni said.


Forging Better Blades A new forging cell developed by Schuler Inc. (Can- ton, MI) and Schuler Pressen (Weingarten, Germany) features the company’s ServoDirect Technology in its SDT Upsetter and Screw Press. This automated robotic system employs two robots in two cells feeding new ex- otic metal material that is heated in ovens before going into the forging machine that produces near-net-shape turbine blades.


Under development for about two years, the proto-


type forging cell is currently undergoing testing at the Advanced Forming Research Center of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. Schuler’s SDT Upset- ter employs a two-servomotor design that enables high production output rates and sets the forming parameters to the specific forming requirements of the material. The system’s press force is 2100-2600 kN, and it includes ovens, robotic automation and die lubrication. The result- ing turbine blades will require minimal machining, and the new forging system will increase output, said Klaus Berglar-Bartsch, sales manager, Forging Technology, Schuler Pressen. “It’s a bidirectional machine that clamps the material and then you upset it,” Berglar-Bartsch said. “If the upsetting material [speed and pressure] is too high, you crack the material and it falls apart, so you need to control the speed.”


This system enables much more efficient forging of the metal alloys used in mission-critical turbine blades. “Safety is the No. 1 priority in manufacturing aerospace parts,” he added. “This is a fully controllable process, with controlled deformation of the part.”


Sealing the Deal Another area of opportunity for automation in aero- space is the sealing of joined components on airframes. “I would say drilling is still No. 1, but there are other op- portunities that are sneaking up, especially in the sealing of long joints in the wing box,” said Chris Blanchette, national account manager, aerospace and assembly,


61 — Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing 2015


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