Robotic innovation helps save BAE Systems £millions

A research project by the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is on track to save BAE Systems millions of pounds in capital and operational costs.

Innovation - The robotic countersinking cell at Factory 2050 - image courtesy of AMRC.
The robotic countersinking cell at Factory 2050 – image courtesy of AMRC.

The AMRC’s Integrated Manufacturing Group (IMG), with support KUKA Systems UK, has developed a robotic countersinking prototype cell at its reconfigurable digital assembly and component manufacturing facility, Factory 2050.

The automated production system can accurately machine holes in composite aircraft components, and includes the use of multiple robots to automatically handle composite parts and then countersink high tolerance pre-drilled fastener holes.

Non-contact metrology is integrated with the machining robot to locate predrilled holes and correct the robot’s position before countersinking. A separate robot provides support to the component, eliminating the need for expensive holding fixtures.

The project was awarded a BAE Systems ‘Business Leader Award’ in 2016 and following its recent success has now also been presented with an ‘Executive Committee Award.

Head of IMG, Ben Morgan explained: “The system is installed at BAE Systems in the UK, where it is being used to process a wide range of composite components for military aircraft, saving the company millions of pounds in capital and operational costs over the coming years.

“These awards are fantastic recognition of the research IMG conducts into developing robotic machining processes; by upgrading our robotic machining capabilities and harnessing the benefits of industry 4.0 technologies to mature new digital manufacturing techniques.”

A linked research project was also awarded a BAE Systems Chairman’s ‘Business Leader Award’ bringing the total to three awards for the same production system.

This separate, augmented reality (AR) system uses optically projected instructions to make the assembly of holding fixtures for the countersinking system more efficient. This system was used to support ‘right first time’ principles, reducing human error and improving process consistency.

IMG is developing the countersinking production system further so the technology will have the ability to evolve with trends within the Industry 4.0 sector. Morgan noted: “Further development will enable processes monitoring and the analysis of big data to provide an understanding of the quality of the manufacturing process.”

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