Automation in the aircraft industry is unique with respect to the overall application size and the intrinsic quality of the processes required. Aircraft systems are typically large when compared with conventional commercial and industrial products and composed of materials and subassemblies that, while not fragile, do require special care and consideration when automating their respective manufacturing processes.
Automation has been applied in a host of diverse aircraft product areas, ranging from robotic turbine blade manufacture to automatic composite manufacturing work cells. In each case, aerospace automation differs from conventional, commercial product automation in the following significant areas:
The production volume is typically low; batch sizes may often be as small as one unit per batch.
The manufacturing processes aregoverned by an assortment of government and industry regulations that can be exacting in their requirements.
Due to the service nature of the aircraft product or the construction materials utilized, processes required for manufacture may be corrosive to the external environment.
Aircraft products tend to be large and difficult to handle when compared to conventional commercial products.
All existing automation opportunities in the aerospace arena must be analyzed carefully to insure that the needs of efficiency and quality can be met in a cost effective, environmentally conscious manner.
One category of aircraft automation applications consists of the external preparation of the skin surfaces. These preparation processes include the prime manufacturing processes (procedures utilized in manufacturing the aircraft in its original condition) and remanufacturing processes which are similar to prime manufacturing processes with significant differences. The basic skin processes that are potential candidates for automation through robotic and flexible automation means are:
Scotchbrite ( prime, reman.)
Rinsing (prime, reman.)
Coating (prime, reman.)
Polishing (prime, reman.)
Coating removal (reman.)
In addition to these manufacturing processes, a number of ancillary processes can be performed to the external skin surface of an aircraft system by automated means:
In each case, the technical requirements of the automation system are driven by the aircraft product size and the condition or durability of the aircraft skin surface involved. For instance, an aircraft application involving the cleaning of a jet fighter system has significantly different requirements than for the coating removal application requirements for a large cargo aircraft. With specific reference to coating removal applications, the automation application is driven by certain specific parameters such as:
Aircraft product size
Aircraft skin structure materials Support superstructure beneath skin
Skin coating type Coating removal environment
The technical solution for accomplishing the task of coating removal has two principal dilemmas: type of process selected and process delivery means. The two problems are separate, but at times related. A coating removal process may be well suited for some forms of delivery systems but inappropriate for others. A delivery system having the requisite level of flexibility to accomplish the complex, tedious task of end effector positioning within a proper, normal, or specified angle to the aircraft skin may not be process-immune. These considerations must be weighed heavily in the analysis of the proper solution for the surface preparation application.
A generic mobile solution to surface preparation may be applied to a variety of aircraft applications. A closer analysis of the specifics of utilizing mobile automation for the process of aircraft coating removal will demonstrate its efficacy and utility.