Making aircraft production rates also means eliminating some of the large monument fixtures and minimizing the time-consuming crane moves often required with large airframes. With the latest automated guided vehicles (AGV) from automation developer Fori Automation Inc. (Shelby Township, MI), aircraft builders can lower costs associated with delays for crane moves, while gaining precision positioning with new servo-controlled AGVs, which also include auto-leveling technology that helps ensure accuracy.
“What they’re really looking for is flexible automation,” said Martin Erni, director, business development, Fori Automation. “For drill and fill, there’s been super-large fixed cells, but in the future, it’ll be more a flexible line. Whoever builds the drill and fill equipment will have to either be flexible or get out of the way.”
With its flexible AGVs, Fori typically handles transportation of the drill units. “Instead of the monuments, they’re now switching to autonomous vehicles,” Erni said. “It is very practical to move the robot along the wing.”
Robots mounted on Fori’s AGVs are able to hold the high precision required on drilling applications, said Paul Meloche, Fori’s vice president, sales. “It’s better to move the equipment to the part, just because of precision,” Meloche said. These AGVs have locking and docking anchors, and are equipped with Fori’s precision motion control using the company’s controls and encoders with its drive and steer systems, he added. “We can be accurate to ±3 mm,” he said, “with a 40–50' [12.2–15.2-m] workpiece.”
With increased requirements for positioning, the AGVs have floor bushings that increase the accuracy to 0.005" (0.127 mm) and allow auto-leveling the platform, Erni said. The company has provided such systems for Brown Aerospace, supplying aircraft built by Spirit AeroSystems. These systems transport large workpieces weighing as much as 110,000 lb (49,500 kg), moving it between stages of manufacturing including to and from autoclaves. “Prior to using this, it would have been a very time-consuming process with an overhead crane,” Erni said.