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ACOTAAL Report Summary

Project ID: 686546
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ACOTAAL (Automation COncepts and Technologies for Aircraft Assembly Lines in the Aircraft Factory of the Future)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Final assembly of aircrafts including structural assembly, system and cabin installation is today largely a craft based activity, which is also true for the supporting activities like logistics. The assembly process is essentially manual and use of automated or robotic means is very limited. Consequently aspects like assembly lead time, manufacturing related costs and production flexibility are rather poor in the aircraft final assembly lines (FALs). Moreover many of the manual activities involve cumbersome tasks for the operators to be performed in non-ergonomic conditions.

In this context the aeronautic sector considers that automation of assembly activities and logistic processes in aircraft FAL stations shall be investigated. ACOTAAL project responds to these needs constituting a research effort whose main objective is to develop new automation concepts for the assembly of aircraft sections and final assembly of aircrafts. The automation systems to be proposed will allow conducting aircraft assembly operations at high production rates with reduced recurring costs, while providing practical strategies for maximum production flexibility, simplified process chains and optimized logistic processes. For achieving this target the automation system concepts to be developed will integrate and combine key enabling innovative technologies in the robotics field, paving the way for the transformation of aircraft production shops using various advanced manufacturing means, methods and technologies. The automation scenario proposed in the project will strongly contribute to the Future Aircraft Factory vision envisaged by the aeronautic sector and reflected in the European Commission Clean Sky RTD work plan, enabling among others: intelligent automation adoption, ergonomic work environment, optimum human-machine interface, zero production defects and flexible manufacturing lines.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

From the whole amount of production activities that are being performed in the targeted aircraft assembly stations, in first place a set of representative production and intralogistics activities for each of the different working areas has been defined in order to be further targeted by the project’s automation concepts to be proposed. Detailed industrial and aircraft requirements that derive from these activities have been collected and reviewed in the first technical activities of the project. Moreover Airbus FAL vision in the Future Aircraft Factory and derivation of implications to the automation systems that will form part of it has been established. The methodology, criteria and tools to be used in next project activities for the assessment of the automation concepts that will be developed in the project against the industrial requirements established, have been defined and agreed.

Several automation concepts for inside cabin (upper floor) and cargo (lower floor) as well as inside wing-root working areas, that incorporate advanced enabling technologies, have been developed until a conceptual design phase or basic engineering maturity level. Each automation concept includes a set of individual automation system (IAS) proposals plus the required operators to address all the representative production activities of the application area under analysis. In turn, an IAS includes both single automation devices (robot manipulator arms, end-effectors, on-board sensors,…) as well as mobility devices (moveable platforms, mobile robots,…) for transporting the manipulator arms or for moving the aircraft components to the installation points (i.e. logistics). CAD-3D realistic mockups have been developed for each IAS and for the application area scenario, and production simulations have been carried out for assessing IAS feasibility for performing the production tasks and activities (i.e. collision avoidance, reach, manoeuvrability…). The analysis and description of the production process flow proposed for each automation concept has been performed, including description of any required ancillary equipment, impact on the working environment and safety related aspects and means required for the system to be safely deployed. Finally an assessment process of these automation concepts proposed for the fuselage’s inside working areas (i.e. cabin and cargo) and for the wing’s inside application area has been carried out. Therefore, as outcome of this process, a rating and down-selection of those automation concepts that are most appropriate to form part of the overall FAL automation scenario as regards such application areas has been obtained.

The elaboration of automation concepts proposals for the production activities regarding the Outside Fuselage application areas is currently underway in the project. The working methodology applied to these automation concepts and expected outcome of the analysis performed to each of them is analogue to that explained above for other application areas.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Automation systems currently in use in aircraft FALs present some remarkable limitations for addressing the vision of the Aircraft Factory of the Future (complex and huge bespoke solutions, long cycle time, capital intensive and process specific systems). As a consequence of this situation, in practice automation systems are applied only to a limited number of sub-assemblies with simple geometry and easy access.

The automation concepts being developed under ACOTAAL project mean a leap forward beyond the state of the art in terms of lead time, recurring and non-recurring costs, production efficiency and flexibility and also more ergonomic working stations with respect to currently available manufacturing methods and systems employed in the aircraft assembly hangars. These automation concepts will open the door to radically increase the use of automation systems in aircraft assembly factories.

On the other hand ACOTAAL project will contribute to strengthen the competitiveness of the European aeronautic sector, while meeting society’s needs, in several ways:

-Underpinning the concept of product viability are the cost of production and the cost of acquisition. Without considering the engines, more than 50% of the recurring cost of manufacturing an aircraft is determined by the fuselage, the cabin and cargo equipment and the integration effort performed in the assembly of these components. Thus advanced manufacturing means and methods able to achieve high production rates with reduced recurring costs such as those being developed in ACOTAAL, should be considered a high-level enabler for achieving this objective.

-The adoption of the new automation system concepts addressed in this project and the inherent change that they will provoke in the approach to manufacturing and assembly of aeronautic structures, will strongly contribute to provide a competitive industrial, technologically advanced and economically viable base for the aeronautic sector, and therefore is expected to provide a positive impact in the creation and preservation of quality employment in the aeronautic sector

-The project will impact directly on the working conditions and ergonomics of the aeronautic manufacturing industry shop floor operators, as the new automation systems fostered by ACOTAAL will fulfil the most arduous and unhealthy manual processes involved in the assembly stages

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