The initial situation
Two thirds of all civilian aircraft currently in operation are single-aisle standard fuselage aircraft – and demand is rising. Airbus’ share in this market has also grown continuously since the launch of the single-aisle program. In order to meet this demand, the most important supplier of structural components for the Airbus series programs – Premium AEROTEC – is faced with the challenge of increasing production output considerably, while simultaneously reducing manufacturing costs. It quickly became clear that the goal of supplying up to 575 single-aisle sections annually can only be achieved with automation.
Specifically, production of Airbus section 19 is to be automated. This section of the fuselage is located between the end of the cabin and the last segment that houses the auxiliary power unit. Unlike the rest of the fuselage, which is conical in shape, section 19, consisting of six partial shells, tapers towards the rear. Its special shape makes assembly of the individual segments more challenging. In the KUKA system, reinforcement elements (stringers), connecting brackets (clips) and edge supports are to be riveted to the outer skin of the partial shells fully automatically. Transportation of the partial shells before and after this production step is also to be carried out automatically. Manual assembly steps are to be networked with intelligent automation solutions.
The team from KUKA – acting here in the role of system integrator – invested a good two years in this project together with Premium AEROTEC and other partners. KUKA played a leading role in the planning and development, manufactured or procured all the required components and system parts, integrated the control systems, coordinated all subsuppliers, and ensured that the system was installed and put into operation on time.
On the way to Industrie 4.0 with transparent production
At the start of the manufacturing sequence, each partial shell is fitted with an RFID chip. On the basis of this chip, the handling robots and riveting machines at the individual stations recognize the component and can change to the corresponding tool, for example. This enables seamless tracking of every component throughout the entire manufacturing process – for transparent production in keeping with the philosophy of Industrie 4.0.
Innovative lightweight component carriers
Until now, modular pallets made of steel and weighing up to 1,000 kilograms were used as component carriers. Together with Premium AEROTEC, KUKA developed a lightweight aluminum gripper for the robots and a component carrier that now only weighs around 400 kilograms including the partial shell. This means that the load can be moved quickly and precisely, thereby considerably reducing manufacturing and assembly costs.
Integration of various controllers
KUKA integrated the Siemens Sinumerik 840D as the higher-level machine controller. KUKA also defined and implemented the interface between the Siemens controller and the KUKA KR C4 robot controller. This means that operators can control all the machines via a single, familiar interface. It makes no difference here whether these are KUKA handling robots or third-party machines, such as the automatic riveting machines from the USA that KUKA has seamlessly integrated into the system. Using KUKA’s own control standard – miKUKA – information is collected, visualized on the line and made available to the customer systems. The robot motion for the drilling/riveting process was programmed entirely offline.
The advantages of the automation solution:
• Shorter waiting times and throughput time
• Reduced logistics requirements
• Transparent production sequences
• More ergonomic manual work steps
• Utmost precision and productivity in conjunction with attractive costs