KUKA Aerospace promotes systems automation to lower aircraft manufacturing costs
November 10, 2009
Seattle | Detroit | Augsburg, Germany - With the aerospace industry as focused as ever on containing costs, KUKA Systems Aerospace is pioneering breakthrough innovation in the automation of entire assembly and sub-assembly lines. It's a trend leading increasingly to major investments in new manufacturing strategies.
"Who will be able to afford the aircraft of tomorrow? This is the aerospace indus-try's overriding concern," says Robert Reno, Director Aerospace for KUKA Systems North America. "Increasingly, our orientation at KUKA Aerospace is towards designing and building large-scale automation solutions that deliver significant cost savings to partially offset the enormous development expense associated with launching these aircraft."
KUKA Systems Aerospace, a five year old initiative, aggregates the research and product development activity of KUKA Systems Group aerospace divisions in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. From the start, it has drawn on one of the parent company's core competences - developing automated technolo-gies - to produce a robust and still growing portfolio of KUKA tools and solutions for specific airframe manufacturing operations. These include automatic laser welding and automated panelisation systems as well as multifunctional robot end effectors for drilling, sealant and fastener insertion. It has developed much of the portfolio in-house, on its own or in conjunction with partners with complementary expertise. The KUKA Systems Aerospace Multi-Functional End Effector, which can drill, hole-probe and temporarily fasten in a single setup incorporates a Novator orbital drilling unit. KUKA Automated Panelisation Systems combine KUKA robots and control technology with Gemcor's All Electric Drilling/Fastening machine.
Now KUKA Systems is leveraging another core competence - its wealth of experi-ence as a leading systems integrator that designs, installs and commissions entire assembly lines for industries like automotive and solar panel manufacturing. This dual competence as technology provider and integrator is being applied to ground-breaking automation projects that promise faster, more cost effective assembly of new aircraft.
Integrated assembly line - F-35 Lightning II
KUKA Systems North America has been awarded a contract valued in excess of $100 million to build an integrated, optimized assembly line by Northrop Grumman Corporation for manufacturing the center fuselage for the F-35 Lightning II jet fighter at a production rate of one per day. The line is scheduled for completion in 2014.
Automated drilling and fastening system - 2010 launch
Also in North America, KUKA is developing and building an automated six-robot drilling and fastening system for a launch customer to drill and fasten entire barrel sections of the fuselage of a new commercial airliner about twice the fast as - and for about half the capital cost of - the customer's current gantry-mounted CNC technology. The KUKA system utilizes the same footprint and unlike the gantry-mounted CNC machine, the floor beneath it doesn't require costly reinforcement. Customer delivery is scheduled for mid-2010.
Horizontal wing assembly - Airbus A350-XWB
KUKA will design, build and install a complete automated system for the horizontal assembly of the Next Generation Composite Wing for the A350-XWB at Airbus in the UK. This project is an outgrowth of KUKA's unrivalled expertise in systems de-sign and simulation, KUKA's ongoing participation in Europe's ALCAS (Advanced Low Cost Aircraft Structures) development initiative as well as KUKA's long history of successful collaboration with Airbus.
"The takeaway here for the aerospace community is that the age of systems auto-mation truly has arrived," says Reno. "These projects have been initiated by Tier 1 manufacturers. The technology is better than ever and the widespread use of com-posites in next-generation airliners like the Boeing 787 and A350 provides the logic for changing production processes to lower manufacturing costs and shorten deliv-ery timetables."
In North America, KUKA Systems' aerospace division has grown from a staff of three to over 45 in its three years of existence. It has its own research and devel-opment cell, as well as access to the engineering expertise serving all KUKA Sys-tems North America divisions, including the new KUKA Systems North American Development Center at Sterling Heights that specializes in laser welding and other advanced joining technologies. It also shares technologies with other KUKA Aero-space teams in Britain and Germany and works closely in many projects with sister company KUKA Robotics, manufacturer of the most widely used robots in the aerospace industry. "We are more than consultants, more than a manufacturer and more than a raw integrator," says Reno. "What we conceptualize we also build and deliver. We have the specific capabilities to drill and fasten or drill and rivet aircraft structures together whether it be a manual, partly automated or highly automated system."
KUKA Systems at SAE AeroTech 2009, November 10-12
KUKA Systems will be attending the SAE AeroTech 2009 Congress & Exhibit. From November 10-12 it will be presenting a selection of state of the art KUKA Aerospace tools and solutions at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, Washington.
KUKA Systems is located at Booth #501
About KUKA Systems
KUKA Systems is an international supplier of flexible production systems to the automotive, aerospace, renewable energy and other industries in which highly automated processes are required. A workforce of around 3,700 worldwide works on ideas, concepts and solutions for automated production, as well as supplying products and services for virtually all tasks in the industrial processing of metallic and non-metallic materials.
In aerospace, KUKA's worldwide network of specialists develops and markets inno-vative solutions, including the provision of engineering services, automated production systems, process technology, flexible robot cells for individual func-tions, tools and standard components.
Its range of products and services is marketed internationally by subsidiaries and distribution agents in Europe, the Americas and Asia. KUKA Systems posted a total order volume of around €855m in 2008.
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