Kuka Robotics Collaborate to Improve Aerospace Manufacturing Methodology

11 July 2005

Kuka Robotics Corporation, a manufacturer of industrial robots, has joined forces with five other automation companies to develop new flexible manufacturing processes for composites in the aerospace industry.

Kuka recently introduced carbon fibre materials in to their production robots with the company stating that the composite material makes the robot arm lighter, faster and less expensive, and ultimately increases the customer's throughput.

In a further development of its focus on composite manufacturing, the company are part of a manufacturing consortium formed to address the industry's need to reduce time-to-production cycles and capital expenditures by developing a new production model that will include new generations of flexible robots, sensors and intelligent fixturing.

Joining KUKA Robotics in the consortium is Composite Systems of California in the US who will be responsible for the overall program management and systems integration; Programming Plus, experts in CAD/CAM integration; New River Kinematics experts in sensor integration; Faro Technologies, experts in laser registration systems and EOA Systems, experts in automated robotic drilling tools; and Weber Screwdrivers of Yorktown Heights, NY experts in automated screw feeding and fastening systems. The consortium's initial focus will be on airframes and aerospace structures for commercial aircraft.

""We believe robotic and sensor technology is at a crossover point, and can now supplement traditional hard tooled manufacturing in a wide range of high tolerance aerospace applications,"" noted Mike Beaupre, director new markets for KUKA Robotics Corporation. ""Our customers are demanding lower capital costs, reduced time-to-market and more flexibility in operations, and this consortium has a clear vision on how to implement flexible automation to deliver these benefits.""

The companies are currently working with aerospace manufacturers to identify key programs that would benefit from their new data driven approach to robotic manufacturing in aerospace. Early emphasis is being given to drilling and riveting operations, as these have historically been both labour and tooling intensive operations.

One of the manufacturers that Kuka is working with is Airbus Deutschland, who manufacture carbon fibre rudders. The rudders are shaped using a mould.

In the mold the material is sewn and then filled with resin. When the aircraft components are sewn, the needle has to maintain a 90° angle to the surface at all times. The components can have either a convex or concave shape and therefore the equipment needed had to have sufficient freedom of movement and flexibility. The company concluded that only a six-axis robot would work for this application.

Kuka then designed a robot to accommodate sewing both the convex and concave shapes.

KUKA Robotics Corporation, is a german manufacturer of industrial robots, with an annual production volume approaching 10,000 units, and an installed base of over 60,000 units.

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