With thousands of fastener locations that need to be drilled and filled to complete a plane, drilling and fastening remain the largest areas of opportunity for automated robotics applications in aerospace. New developments are also making robots more attractive than ever in the aerospace and defense space—especially improved rigidity and accuracy in the robots themselves.
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When you walk into the Redeye On Demand facility in Eden Prairie, MN, you enter into one version of the factory of the future. There you will see a bank of 100 high-end Fortus fused-deposition modeling (FDM) machines from Stratasys that provide the capacity to build real, functional parts with production-grade thermoplastics directly from CAD data.
“We are developing solutions for power workholding such as hydraulic swing clamps and block clamps, because the real estate on a fixture is so valuable,” says Jason Betz, product specialist for Carr Lane Roemheld (St. Louis). “This pushes the use of smaller workholding components as much as possible because the more parts on the fixture the greater the productivity.”
The challenges to manufacturing as it evolves into the 21st century are now familiar, and impact how metrology must contribute. Manufacturers face uncertain production volumes with roller-coaster demand, shorter production runs and faster product development cycles. Automation, while alluring as a way to reduce cost, needs to adjust.
Automation development in the aerospace industry has quickened its pace, with the aviation and defense industries attempting to further automate manufacturing processes to meet growing OEM order backlogs and critical aerospace-defense program deadlines.
Today’s products require high finishes, burr-free edges, freedom from contamination, and often close tolerances. Electropolishing provides all of those conditions and more in a matter of seconds for many metal parts. It is a process that has been used for more than a hundred years. It is widely known and the science is widely discussed, but its ability to run job shop lots and high-precision high-volume parts in the same equipment makes it a bit unique.
Advanced simulation, new toolpath techniques aid programming of highly complex machinery. CAD/CAM software developers continue to refine simulation capabilities and toolpath techniques that enable programming highly complex equipment including multiaxis and multitasking machine tools.
It’s getting harder to imagine any market that isn’t benefiting from the latest developments in parts manufactured from advanced composites. “Advanced composites will arguably dominate consumer and production products, especially in the near future,” says Bert Erdel, industry consultant and executive technology advisor, Morris Group Inc. (Windsor, CT), “as they have begun to gain wide acceptance in solving energy-related issues.”
The machining challenges for two of the most advanced concepts in cutting tool materials are pretty well known. Cubic boron nitride (CBN) tools of varying designs are being used to cut hardened ferrous metals with or without interrupted cuts, as well as welded and clad metals.
All fixtures are designed to hold a workpiece in position firmly and accurately during a manufacturing process.