The Smart Fixed Wing Aircraft is among the most promising concepts under development within the EU's Clean Sky initiative to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. The aircraft will exploit a natural laminar flow wing whose tight geometrical tolerances for surface quality require highly stable and precise manufacturing and assembly. The EU-funded project PROUD (Precision outer wing assembly devices) successfully developed manufacturing technology that led to the production of tooling with precision better than 0.1 mm. In addition, it produced anthropomorphic robots for automatic small parts assembly. Big structures and aeronautical products are currently being assembled automatically. However, smaller part assemblies are usually treated by hand, and thus contractors are moving to lower-labour-cost countries to cut expenses on the process. Yet, one project partner used intelligent systems and high-precision robots adept at automatic assembly of small parts. Thanks to these high-accuracy robots and flexible grippers, along with computer vision feedback, the project team met the goal of highly automated assembly systems that can find the best fit position of several wing parts such as ribs and spars. Researchers also moved forward with operations other than the positioning such as drilling or riveting. The computer vision systems along with new augmented reality goggles were used to control the workflow in real time and provide online data on quality inspection. Technology can offset outsourcing of manual labour to low-labour-cost countries and minimise errors while increasing assembly flexibility. In addition, automatic positioning can decrease production cost thanks to high throughput. Through its enabling technology for manufacture of the Smart Fixed Wing Aircraft, PROUD has made an important contribution to decreased fuel consumption and pollutant and noise emissions produced by air travel. The high-precision tools and robotic assembly will be an attractive investment in numerous other manufacturing environments as well.
Wing assembly, natural laminar flow wing, geometrical tolerances, PROUD, anthropomorphic robot