KUKA Robotics Corporation (Clinton Township, Mich.), a manufacturer of industrial robots, and several other automation companies have joined forces to develop new flexible manufacturing processes for the aerospace industry. The consortium was formed to reduce time-to-production cycles and capital expenditures by developing a new production model that will include flexible robots, sensors and intelligent fixturing.
Joining KUKA Robotics in the consortium is Composite Systems (Arnold, Calif.), which will be responsible for the overall program management and systems integration; Programming Plus (New Berlin, Wis.) experts in CAD/CAM integration; New River Kinematics (Williamsburg, Va.), experts in sensor integration; Faro Technologies (Lake Mary, Fla.), experts in laser registration systems; EOA Systems (Carrollton, Tex.), experts in automated robotic drilling tools; and Weber Screwdrivers (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.), experts in automated screw feeding and fastening systems.
"We believe robotic and sensor technology is at a crossover point, and can now supplement traditional hard tooled manufacturing in a wide range of high tolerance aerospace applications," noted Mike Beaupre, director new markets for KUKA Robotics Corp. "Our customers are demanding lower capital costs, reduced time-to-market and more flexibility in operations, and this consortium has a clear vision on how to implement flexible automation to deliver these benefits."
The consortium's initial focus will be on airframes and aerospace structures for commercial aircraft. The companies are currently working with manufacturers to identify key programs that would benefit from this new approach to robotic manufacturing. Early emphasis is being given to drilling and riveting operations, as these have historically been both labor and tooling intensive operations.