Concept and Objectives:
Truly flexible automation of -low volume, -high value per part components, -managing quality assurance aspect throughout the value chain is a key research area for the manufacturing and production community in Europe. The FLEXA project has identified key elements for delivering advancement in this area. The key areas of research will be; cell design solutions in line with product design decisions; fusion of knowledge generated in manufacturing through a rigorous data management structure; virtual manufacturing and automated off line preparation including quality assurance; human-machine interaction and restart capabilities. The FLEXA object will be: To create the tools, methods and technologies needed to define, prepare and validate an automated flexible cell that can manufacture a generic process chain allowing for safe human interaction and deliver quality assured parts for the European aero space industry. Meeting this objective will be a major challenge for the consortium members. All members are committed to contribute with dedicated, competent and skilled people.
The project proposes to significantly contribute to the long term objectives for European aero industry, i.e. to deliver technology readiness by 2020 towards the following three subjects: Reduce aircraft development costs by 50%, Create a competitive supply chain able to halve time to market, Reduce travel charges FLEXA is delivering:
– Knowledge based manufacturing through reuse of manufacturing information;
– 10% reduced engine development time;
– 5% lower engine development cost:
– 20% decrease in manufacturing preparation lead time;
– 50% fewer prototypes in manufacturing preparation phases;
– 15% less scrap during component development;
– Virtual tools for prediction and preparation of manufacturing;
– 30% lower product cost;
– 2 times increased production rate with same process equipment;
– 25% less scrap during component manufacturing.
FLEXA Results in brief:
Flexible automated aircraft production
The aerospace industry produces relatively few components compared to the automotive industry, and product lifetimes are quite long. Flexible automated production units should have major impact on industry competitiveness.
In the EU, there is great pressure to reduce manufacturing costs while enhancing quality and performance in order to meet certification while remaining globally competitive. Meeting these objectives is particularly challenging in the aerospace industry where products typically are low-volume and have long service lives. Hence, flexible production units are required that can be adapted to different components.
Automation technology is quite mature in the automotive industry. EU-funded scientists worked on extending it to the aeronautical sector within the project ‘Advanced flexible automation cell’ (FLEXA). Work encompassed the development of virtual manufacturing to support creation and operation of the flexible automation cells, thus providing a safe generic process chain. Quality assurance systems ensure conformation to aerospace regulations. A web-based data flow system provides a virtual and distributed working environment with integrated data flow into and out of the cell. Two demonstrator cells successfully validated the concepts for implementation. One was for grinding, deburring and measuring operations, and the other for welding and non-destructive testing.
The virtual manufacturing platform supports offline modelling of a generic automation cell as well as automatic generation of cell control programmes via a programmable logic controller. It also contains code for geometrical tolerance dependency in quality assurance. Recognising the importance of human–machine interactions in manufacturing, FLEXA developed strategies and tools for restarting a manufacturing process (using augmented reality). Each operator is equipped with a touch screen monitor and webcam. Methods support evaluation, early assessment and decision making during failures, reducing lead time and scrap.
FLEXA’s virtual manufacturing platform and flexible automation cells for production in the aerospace industry will increase production rates with the same process equipment while reducing scrap. Technology promises to reduce aircraft development costs and time-to-market by 50 % for a major boost to EU manufacturing competitiveness.
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