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aerospace manufacturing


FANUC America Corp. (Rochester Hills, MI). “They do that by hand right now, and it has to be sealed because of the fuel in the wing. From an ergonomic perspective, coatings is probably the next big one. “What they’re trying to do is use more automation


and robotics for the ergonomically difficult tasks, and to use the real estate that they have,” Blanchette added, noting the difficulty of speeding up production on pre- dominantly manual operations. “Robotics can increase it significantly. You can push people to work faster, but they make mistakes.” In the past year, FANUC has worked on many aircraft painting and sealing applications, most of which require “activating” the surface of the airframe through sanding or other operations. “A lot of the challenges with the newer planes are the materials, where they’re using a lot of car- bon fiber,” Blanchette said.


Newer methods of automating these types of opera-


tions robotically include using FANUC’s Force Control. “You’re going to be contacting the entire surface with a robot. They’re looking at ways to control the force while scuffing or sanding, doing surface activation,” Blanchette said, “and one is using our Force Control option, which is sort of like touch sensing. Those are being evaluated, and we’re getting into the phase now where there’s a lot of research going on.” Another issue for aerospace builders is processing a


large variation of parts with new composite materials, he added. In trimming applications, there are many varia- tions and shapes of stringers that make it more difficult to machine than with traditional materials. “When they manufacture with the composites, they don’t have great control of dimensions when it comes out of the autoclave, and they have to trim the part,” Blanchette said. “It’s very difficult to machine carbon fiber.”


Robots for Workholding For a recent trimming application, aerospace supplier PaR Systems Inc. (Shoreview, MN) developed an over- head gantry-based KMT waterjet cutting workcell that used 37 FANUC LR Mate 200iD Series robots functioning as flexible fixtures precisely holding a 40–50’ (12.2–15.2- m) long composite airframe component. “In the past, they’d typically have a fixture or a pogo to hold the part, and the pogos are much more expensive,” Blanchette said. “The beauty of the robot is it has six axes of articula-


tion, and you’ve added flexibility at a significant reduction in cost. It’s also able to do more with the range of part variation. There are a lot of features of the robot that are enablers, such as the force control sensor that allows them to be able to do complex geometric shapes, with great repeatability. “We’re also working with Nordson Sealant Equipment [Plymouth, MI] to develop new tools and applications software to be able to dispense sealers,” he said. These systems could be used for fay and filleting, which are sealing terms that relate to the shape of the sealer, similar to caulking, he added. “In a lot of ways, it’s a lot more difficult. They’re doing it all by hand now and there’s an art to it. It’s difficult to get access to the areas that need sealing, you have to control the bead. The shape has a tolerance, you have to be able to inspect it, and there’s got to be enough volume to it. It’s a very, very difficult pro- cess, and it’s also very time-consuming. If they’re going to increase throughput, it’s a bottleneck.” Aerospace builders continue to show broad interest in automating aerospace operations, said Joe Campbell, vice president, marketing, Güdel Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI). “The applications are very traditional—material handling, machine loading, assembly including drilling and riveting, surface prep and paint, sealant dispensing, etc. Gantry robots are a natural fit due to the heavy payload capacity and large work envelopes. Where the dexterity of a six- axis robot is preferred, floor and overhead robot tracks deliver the work envelopes required.” Teach pendant programming is economically difficult for low-volume, high-mix manufacturing, he noted. “Aero- space manufacturers have been aggressive in adopting CAM principles for machining,” he said. “They want to apply the same offline processing and programming to robot applications. This is all good, but building large work envelope systems with sufficient accuracy [versus taught point repeatability] is a challenge. In many applica- tions, high-resolution sensors such as machine vision are delivering the required precision.” Güdel is developing large-scale robot positioning sys- tems to support automation of the largest aerospace parts and frames. “We see considerable interest in painting,” he said. “The economic drivers are significant, from the cost and weight of the material being applied, typically over ap- plied, to the dangerous and dirty working conditions.”


62 — Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing 2015


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