Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

H2020

ACOTAAL — Result In Brief

Project ID: 686546
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.4.5.1.
Country: Spain
Domain: Industrial Technologies, Transport and Mobility

Automation to help aircraft manufacturing reach new heights

Comprehensive research into automating and robotising the aircraft assembly lines could result in a much leaner and more cost-effective aeronautics industry.
Automation to help aircraft manufacturing reach new heights
Aircraft assembly relies to a significant extent on manually putting an aeroplane together, where the use of automated or robotic processes is very limited. As a result, the aeronautics sector has been increasingly looking for ways to automate manufacturing operations and facilitate logistic processes in aircraft assembly lines and stations, aiming to reduce costs and streamline production.

To address this challenge, the EU-funded ACOTAAL project developed a comprehensive automation concept for aircraft final assembly lines (FALs). “Final assembly of aircrafts, including structural assembly, system installation and cabin installation, is today largely a craft-based activity,” says project coordinator Valentin Collado. “Aspects like assembly lead time, related manufacturing costs, logistics and production flexibility in the aircraft FALs clearly need improving,” he clarifies.

Successful simulation of new automation concepts

The automation concepts that ACOTAAL developed combine key enabling innovative technologies and manufacturing means in the robotics field, paving the way for the transformation of aircraft production facilities. “Our automation concepts apply to different areas such as inside already assembled fuselage cabins, cargo, and outside the fuselage,” explains Collado. “They also involve moveable platforms and mobile robots to transport automation equipment or to move aircraft components to installation points in order to streamline logistics.”

In more technical terms, ACOTAAL developed and simulated 3D automation models of the robotic devices. These form the basis of the automation concepts proposed such as collaborative robotics, dual-arm systems, mobile autonomous platforms, large-scale cable-driven robots, metrology-assisted assembly, and specific grippers. Its proposed production process flow for each automation concept details necessary ancillary equipment or tooling requirements as well. “We’ve also conceived a single-aisle aircraft FAL design that incorporates innovative automation technologies, adapted process flows and logistics, as well as correct dimensioning and allocation of human resources,” highlights Collado. This includes adaptation proposals for the assembly hangar.

These automation concepts represent a leap forward in terms of lead time, recurring and non-recurring costs, production efficiency and flexibility, along with more ergonomic working conditions. They provide substantial competitive advantages in assembly hangars compared to the current production reality.

Multiple benefits from exploitation

“The adoption of the project’s new automation system concepts for FALs and the ensuing improvements will create a competitive industrial, technologically advanced and economically viable basis for the aeronautic sector,” insists Collado. This is also expected to provide a positive impact in creating and preserving quality employment in the sector, in addition to improving working conditions.

To achieve effective exploitation of the project results, the Spanish company and coordinator behind the project, TECNALIA, is negotiating with European companies related to robotics manufacturing and robotics integration. It is working on furthering technology transfer and reaching exploitation agreements with interested companies, including license agreements of previously protected or patented results.

These efforts are aligned with the future vision of the aeronautics sector, such as Airbus’ Factory of the Future concept. Once the research is exploited, the industry will no doubt benefit from faster, leaner and more cost-effective production.

Keywords

ACOTAAL, automation, aircraft, manufacturing, robotic, aeronautics, fuselage, final assembly line
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