Robotic Manufacturing for Aerospace and Defense
Aerospace and defense companies depend on precise and consistent machining and assembly to make safe and reliable products. Once labor-intensive tasks are increasingly performed by robotic manufacturing technology, the variability of human workers is eliminated while capacity increases and costs fall. Never tiring, never wavering, a robot follows the path it was taught without fail. Every piece is produced at the same rate, and each one is identical.
In aerospace and defense manufacturing, there's constant pressure to reduce costs, while at the same time, adopting new processes and technologies. Where aluminum was once ubiquitous, today carbon fiber panels are assembled, bonded and inspected increasingly by robots. Robotic technology lowers costs and improves quality while adapting quickly to changes in product design and production schedule.
Aerospace and Defense Robotics Applications
There are many jobs robots can do in aerospace and defense machining, assembly and even maintenance. FANUC robots are drilling and deburring holes, laying carbon fiber, and even “depainting” whole aircrafts. Manufacturers large and small are reaping the benefits.
- Arc Welding - A robotic arc welder holds and moves the torch at the exact angle and speed needed for a quality weld, and does it the same way every time. The last weld made is the same as the first, so quality and safety are built in.
- Assembly - Robots, sometimes mounted on a transport unit, lay carbon fibers that eventually become wings. They apply beads of adhesive and sealant uniformly and consistently, and they rivet panels to metal spars. At the component level, robots can assemble faster and more accurately than humans, especially when aided by force-sensing and vision systems. Pumps, motors, seats and even electrical harnesses are all candidates for robotic assembly.
- Machine Trending - Aerospace machining processes, usually performed on CNC machines, often have long cycle times. Having robots load and unload allows the system to run unattended, maximizing output from high-value assets. By mounting a robot on a transport unit, one arm can even tend several machine tools.
- Material Removal - Aerospace manufacturers around the world have taken to robotic drilling. Assembling an aircraft takes thousands of rivets to hold the panels in place, and each rivet needs hole drilling and deburring. Today, robotic drilling systems swarm over airframes, ensuring every hole is in exactly the right location and burr-free.
- Painting - Paint robots are commonplace in the automotive industry, but in aerospace manufacturing, they’re used for depainting. Periodically, every aircraft must undergo a thorough structural inspection, and doing that means removing the paint. It's a job demanding great consistency in an unpleasant atmosphere, and one that's ideal for a robot. Whether blasting abrasive media or using laser ablation, robotic depainting ensures the job is done thoroughly and human workers are kept safe.
- Part Inspection - There are no second chances at 36,000 feet, so every aerospace component and assembly is inspected thoroughly to ensure safety. Ultrasonic and visual inspection methods are the most widely used. Plus, sensors and cameras ensure nothing is being overlooked. It's even possible to add 3-D scanning technology to a robot so it can make dimensional checks.
Ensuring Smooth Integration
Robots today are easier to program and deploy than ever before, but every industry is different, and integration always brings new challenges. For example, in aerospace manufacturing, the precision demanded by some applications requires secondary encoders on the robots. That's why it's so important to work with an experienced integration partner. With over 30 years experience and more than 4,000 installations throughout North America, Acieta has the knowledge and skills needed to integrate robots successfully.
Whether you're in aerospace manufacturing or another industry, Acieta can help. We'll explain how defense and aerospace robotics can help your business, identify opportunities and support you through every step of your project. For more information, contact us today.
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