In the aerospace industry, automation has become the prodigy of higher precision, flexibility, and accuracy in the production processes. A standard of the shelf robot is fast and able to handle higher payloads today, but it is just accurate for a repeated position. For aerospace industry usage businesses need a programmed (absolute) position out of an NC/RC Programm which is especially with higher process force within Millimeters. Therefore, a robot has to be compensated for accuracy, temperature and slippage due to process forces. With an industry experience of close to four decades, Broetje-Automation GmbH has been actively contributing to the robotics landscape in the aerospace industry. The company is a leading manufacturer and supplier of machines, and systems, specializing in the designing, development, and distribution of aircraft supplies. “Because all existing robots need additional direct encoders and controllers for compensation algorithms, we build our own robot to overcome this problem by improving the stiffness and accuracy of the robot itself, even with additional process forces by e.g. a drill operation,” says Axel Peters, CTO of Broetje-Automation. He beautifully describes the company’s role to be equivalent to that of a conductor of a symphony, “Just as the conductor brings together the beat, rhythm, and composition, Broetje-Automation helps assemble large aircraft components such as fuselage panels, tail assemblies and wings in the right order.”
The complexity and size of aerospace manufacturing processes have been continually challenging the industrial robot makers to respond with new solutions. Most often, the standard robots do not function accurately when it comes to the aerospace manufacturing processes. This is because aircraft functions require very high accuracy, especially in the drill operations. Also, the temperature variances in the production environment can cause the robot to move by a few millimeters which can disturb the entire drilling plan. In response to these requirements, Broetje-Automation creates its own robotic solution that can operate according to the needs of the aerospace industry that demands high accuracy. “In the aviation and aerospace industry, there is a lack of industry-specific robotic solutions that enhance the overall output productivity and efficiency. We built our robotic solution for providing more flexibility and accuracy, from prototype to full cycle production and processes,” asserts Peters.
Powering Aerospace Production Processes
Broetje-Automation, with its BA-robot Power RACe, successfully addresses and overcomes the fundamental configurational limitations of the standard robots in the market. Power RACe has a highly robust structure specifically designed for close tolerance aerospace applications including drilling and fastening of the outerfuselage, riveting of inner fuselage structure, drilling, and fastening of aircraft engine structures alongside advanced vision inspection system capability. Being a highly flexible, automated positioning system, and having high-speed precision drill spindle, the Power RACe fulfills all requirements in processing time, performance and precision in the assembly of aircraft parts. The added control sophistication with slippage compensation makes it possible to not only address difficult-to-automate manual processes but also to achieve desired accuracies and repeatability.
Configured as a mobile platform, Power RACe is designed for either a rail system or self-driven wheels and has different components that can be automated, drilled and riveted by the mobile robot such as wing box, stabilizers, and fuselage. It provides maximum flexibility through easy mobility and fast tool change resulting in improved positioning and feed rate performance over standard robot systems. Power RACe offers optimized NC programming capability and has got sensor systems improving accuracy concerning distance, normality, workpiece zero points, tack rivet detection, and countersink depth measurement.
Power RACe with its higher stiffness, acceleration, and proven technologies in drive train and controls has been impacting the aerospace industry not only in terms of improved performance but also efficiency. For instance, when a production company replaced an existing robotic system with BA Power RACe, they significantly reduced drill times in Titanium parts up to 50 percent. They were able to achieve improved offline program handling, very short ramp-up phase in production, and improved quality, as well as accuracy, compared to their earlier robotic arm platforms. As an overall result of these measures and the shorter fixture cycle times achieved through elimination of manual pick-up, the company achieved a higher overall performance of 40 percent over previously used standard robotic applications.
Broetje-Automation helps assemble large aircraft components such as fuselage panels, tail assemblies and wings in the right order
What’s more, the company supports digitalization by offering modules to visualize the performance of the process and complete the inspection. All the data is collected and analyzed for quality and performance of the machine. Broetje-Automation also offers the complete suite for optimization of production within the manufacturing execution system (MES). This ensures that the client has optimal utilization of the machine.
Today Broetje-Automation not only offers automated assembly equipment, including drilling and fastening equipment, and machine control/software solutions, composite manufacturing equipment but also provides consulting services. With a focus on developing highly efficient solutions, Broetje-Automation provides factory planning with the simulation of production processes and capacity, technology assessment as well as manufacturing process development for the design of assembly lines. “We have developed compensation algorithms for quicker robots that follow the absolute coordinates instead of reference coordinates, which makes the robot a very flexible solution for speeding up production. Our focus is on automation solutions to bring reliability and stability into production,” states Peters.