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Assembly Planning and SIMulation of an Aircraft Final Assembly Line

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Virtual and augmented reality tools for faster, cost-efficient aircraft assembly processes

Many tasks like aircraft cabin and cargo assembly are mainly performed manually under non-ergonomic conditions with complex process chains. To optimise procedures, an EU initiative identified how these tasks perform and how they’ll function with automation in virtual reality (VR).

Digital Economy
Transport and Mobility

The planning of interior component assembly tasks where humans and robots collaborate in a complex and restricted environment is extremely challenging. Many factors have to be analysed, including the perception of different types of workers, logistics and unexpected situations like robot malfunction. New technologies such as VR tackle these challenges in a safe and cost-effective way. Augmented reality (AR) allows the inclusion of relevant information obtained from computational sources such as the robot’s state or new assembly plans in their proper real context.

Boosting operational procedures via VR and AR simulation environment

The EU-funded SIMFAL project optimised the automated assembly tasks of cabin and cargo interior parts. To do this, it analysed the coexistence between workers and the automated system when they perform assembly tasks. “This coexistence facilitates work settings where workers collaborate with automation systems,” notes coordinator Diego Borro. Project partners set up a simulation environment based on VR and AR to display and evaluate alternative process scenarios. They developed a VR environment to simulate the assembly of an aircraft’s interior. The results fed into an AR system. This tool is used for worker assistance during the assembly process, visualising and/or monitoring actual information in real time. Together, these two tools evaluate different assembly alternatives, choosing the best one in terms of productivity and worker health and safety. “This flexible and powerful interactive VR simulator generates different alternative scenarios for an assembly procedure by changing the level of automation, human-robot collaboration and number of robots, amongst other things,” explains Borro. “What’s more, the VR simulator is a very robust platform for try-evaluate-decide concerning process decisions.”

Helping aircraft manufacturers plan and evaluate assembly alternatives

An analysis can be carried out to evaluate assembly alternatives with different key performance indicators like timing, cost, ergonomics, investments and return on investment. In total, 23 basic scenarios and 81 entire aircraft scenarios have been simulated and evaluated. The SIMFAL team also developed a digital twin demonstrator to check real processes. This was made possible thanks to a robust communications architecture designed for communications between real robots of the process and virtual ones in the demonstrator. The demonstrator enables users to see virtually every single robot and part movements. “In the future, this demonstrator won’t only be used to monitor the process, but also to control or change parameters of the process in real time,” comments Borro. An AR tool has also been integrated into the digital twin demonstrator so that the system can guide workers in human-robot collaborative tasks. “SIMFAL developed and assessed different workload distribution approaches between humans and machines, and found the optimal solution with respect to productivity,” concludes Borro. It’s now possible to adapt an automated system to a specific worker, taking into account other factors like ergonomics and worker satisfaction.

Keywords

SIMFAL, assembly, robot, VR, aircraft, AR, cabin, cargo, human-robot collaboration

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