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Innovative Tooling, End-Effector Development and Industrialisation for Welding of Thermoplastic Components

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TCTOOL (Innovative Tooling, End-Effector Development and Industrialisation for Welding of Thermoplastic Components)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2020-09-30

Weight reduction is an ongoing challenge for aircraft manufacturers as they have to meet international targets for emission reduction and to improve capacity and return on investment for customers. Thermoplastic composites can be a very well suited solution as they can save more weight compared to thermoset composites.
The overall target of the TCTool project is the assembly of different parts of a fuselage demonstrator efficiently and with low cost. For a conventional assembly, fixed tooling is dedicated to specific set of products. As there is an increasing demand for larger number of aircrafts, for the case of new products, new tooling is necessary. At the same time, tooling accounts for one third of total non-recurring costs, and jigs are a major element of tooling and of the total cost of manufacture.
For the case of a thermoplastic assembly, in order to make the most out of their advantages, it is necessary to combine high degree of automation and cost reduction in the assembly. This can happen through the development of:
• Single, highly automated and configurable robotic assembly to replace a number of jigs
• End-effectors to deliver heat and pressure into the joint
• Assembly tooling for automated welding of fuselage components
TCTool project aims to develop innovative solutions to address the requirements for tooling and end-effector development for thermoplastic composite assembly of fuselage components. More precisely, the objectives of the project are the following:
• Develop innovative end effectors for picking and placing of fuselage components
• Develop innovative end-effector for welding
• Develop assembly tool for welding of fuselage components
• Digital-twin with direct link to jig-less tooling to:
o Provide change-controlled model capability
o Provide capability to analyse and visualize data rapidly
The findings from TCTool project are expected to have significant societal impact. Training and nurturing future leaders in innovation, business and science and technology research is essential for developing new products and services that will ensure the future prosperity of European citizens. This project will provide an excellent example of industrially driven new technologies, supporting an industry where European companies are world-leading. In particular, it will support the development of new expertise and transfer new robotic technology from the research base into future products and revenue generation.
The first reporting period of TCTool project has finished with significant progress performed by all the partners. More precisely, partner LSBU, have designed an innovative short-welds end-effector that is capable of manoeuvring its way to reach difficult spots within the fuselage assembly. TWI, have developed a first design of an adaptable jig that will support the entire assembly and assist in the welding process of the stringers to the skin. The placement and welding of stringers and clips will be performed with a multipurpose end-effector which was fully designed and developed by partner CATEC. LSBU’s and CATEC’s end-effectors will both be supported by a gantry. Finally, during this period, partner ACRO have outlined the functions and progress of the digital twin that will oversee and provide a complete description of the product.
The key advantages of thermoplastic composites are their weldability, low density, low overall production cost, improved fracture toughness and recyclability. These benefits are utilised by TCTool project with the aim to go beyond the state of the art and industrialise the use of advanced thermoplastics to manufacture multifunctional fuselages. More precisely, the development of the three end-effectors from the project partners LSBU, CATEC and TWI aim to demonstrate the feasibility of assembling a 180o full scale multifunctional integrated thermoplastic lower fuselage shell, including cabin and cargo floor structure. The new assembly technologies developed in TCTOOL are critical to the realisation of integrating bigger and more complex composite structures in aircraft which will help ensure the future competitiveness of European aircraft manufacturers their world-leading market position. This competitiveness will require the rapid flow of new technologies such as TCTOOL into production to remain ahead of competitors in North America and increasing competition from Brazil and China. The TCTOOL consortium also has strong links with SME specialists which will enable the technology to support the growth and future competitiveness of these companies, laying the basis for future wealth generation within Europe. Finally, training and nurturing future leaders in innovation, business and science and technology research is essential for developing new products and services that will ensure the future prosperity of European citizens. This project will provide an excellent example of industrially driven new technologies, supporting an industry where European companies are world-leading. In particular, it will support the development of new expertise and transfer new robotic technology from the research base into future products and revenue generation.