In the component manufacturer sector it is considered that fixturing is the last obstacle to truly flexible manufacturing operations. In fact it frequently constitutes a costly and time consuming barrier to meeting the challenge of shorter runs necessitated by more demanding consumers. Variety in choice of products is what consumers seek and what manufacturers have to provide. When processing small batches of parts it is very common that a dedicated rigid fixture does not turn out to be economically feasible.
In these cases the most widely used flexible fixtures are adjustable fixtures and modular fixtures. The European Aerospace sector is characterized by a small number of very large firms and a very large number of SMEs Most of these SMEs belong to the third tier and produce machined parts and prototypes. These have important limitations for the application of adjustable or modular fixtures to manufacturing of workpieces with complex curved surfaces or with multiple ribs and walls which must be held during manufacturing operations.
Therefore they design and manufacture customized fixtures for each workpiece that are technically very complex and labour intensive and or too expensive. Another important problem occurs during the material removal process in compliant workpieces or in those whose structure weakens while machining processes progresses. In these cases the workpiece or particular weak zones of it are liable to deform and even break out. In recent years the problems associated with conventional technology have invited research into novel universal workholding techniques.
Ice clamps fluidised beds and RFPE with melting materials are approaches to achieve such universal fixturing objective but thermal deformations associated with temperature changes and lack of clamping force have confined them also to particular components. This project proposes the development of an universal fixture based on MR fluids that will provide these SMEs an innovative solution.
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