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Dassault Systemes - Automotive Robots

Dassault Systèmes : 03 May, 2007  (Company News)
Automotive Robots Brought to Within Aerospace Tolerances

Dassault Systèmes has announced that Airbus has completed a major research project that should result in greater level of automated drilling within the aerospace giant. This patent-applied-for process, which incorporates DELMIA V5 R16 Robotics software, should reduce costs, cut production time and improve quality. Mark Summers, Engineering Group leader, Automation and Robotics, Airbus UK, said: "Company-wide, we drill around 50 million holes per year and half of these are manually processed. Our research is part of a drive to significantly reduce manual processing across current and future aircraft programmes as our build rate increases to meet market demand. Standard industrial robots are not accurate enough for our process specifications, as absolute positional accuracy of plus/minus 0.2 mm is required in many application areas. Our team has brought together two developmental partners, KUKA UK and M3, to address this problem and we believe we have come up with a winning solution which could bring a low cost, flexible robotic platform into the aerospace sector."

M3 is a METRIS metrology integrator, and a DELMIA UK Service Partner. The new Airbus process links a METRIS system to the KUKA robot dynamically, on-line. All of the robot programmes being created off-line use the DELMIA V5 Robotics simulation solution. This is also not the first time KUKA and DELMIA have worked together. Under the aegis of Daimler-Chrysler, experts from the two companies created a second-generation solution of 'Realistic Robot Simulation' (RRS2), a graphical environment provided by DELMIA, into which KUKA connects real-time information on the movements of its own virtual robotic manipulator (VRC), to achieve a significantly higher level of simulation prove-out and integration into real robots.

The Airbus project takes advantage of this solution, with the final full syntax programmes being run on the KUKA VRC, which is graphically driving the DELMIA simulation enabling accurate cycle-times and clash detection to be made. Roger Holden, MD of M3, the company with joint commercial rights to this solution (with KUKA UK), explained: "This project has been a real partnership, between Airbus, KUKA, METRIS, DELMIA and ourselves. All parties agreed that because the part programmes are so large, and the accuracy requirements so high, an Off-Line Programming solution was needed. DELMIA's V5 and KUKA's VRC provide an excellent solution. Linking this with our metrology interface and integration means the robot is consistently running programmes, accurately, referenced back to the CAD master dynamically on-site. The system is currently being commissioned - it is built, is operational and is about to be put into action at Airbus, Filton, UK."

The unique and fully integrated metrology system from Metris measures the virtual world first and adapts the real world to fit. This intuitive system is called Adaptive Control by the team because it makes the robot intelligent enough to make its own adaptations. This means that it can make accurate allowances for temperature fluctuations, for example. The system makes the robot aware of deflections by measuring the relative positions of the target and the robot as it moves towards it. The robot is then able to co-ordinate that data and make the necessary compensations. Mark Summers commented: "Although the project appears complicated, we have kept it as simple as possible. Intricate software interfaces have been avoided and standard components utilised throughout the system to ensure a straightforward operator interface. Now we have finished the first phase, we see extensive possibilities for future applications which could increase efficiency and reduce costs".

Not only can the robot or robots carry out tasks at great positional accuracy and faster than a person, but they could be used for a range of tasks, such as sealant application, component handling, fastening and machining. Such robotic platforms could become truly multi functional. The multi-functionality is key for the aerospace industry, as single process automation tools are often under-utilised owing to the long cycle times for each wing set for example. Another benefit is that the system, in effect, becomes an online DMM, certifying jigs and products in real time. There is potential to re-certify jigs without taking them out of production at regular intervals, instead geometry changes in the jig could be identified in the real time production environment. Similarly, it could become unnecessary to divert products to a lab for QA, as the robot could measure them as they are being made via a multi functional 3D scanning end effector.

Stefan Filpe, a DELMIA European robotic expert, said: "This is the most sophisticated combination of offline programming ever attempted. Not only can the system manage single robots, but also what KUKA calls Cooperating Robots. This is where two or more robots work together, so that, for example, one holds the work piece while the others work on that moving component. Therefore they need to synchronise their movements and anticipate the next movement together. At DELMIA, we view this ability as so important that we are constantly enhancing the capabilities of V5 Robotics to program and optimise this kind of scenario, so that it works with or without an interface with RRSII."

Brett Green, of KUKA's Aerospace Group in the UK, concurred with Stefan. "In the aerospace sector, the loads we are asking the robots to bear are too great for single robots. Load sharing is therefore absolutely fundamental. Our 'Robo Team' has successfully tested up to 15 robots working together in this way. Similarly, it is absolutely essential that we are able to commission all our robot programs off-line, as aerospace cycle times are far longer than automotive cycle times, while the number of holes to be drilled is mind-boggling. However, I predict that the mobile, flexible robotic cells we are developing for aerospace will make their way back to the automotive sector. Materials like aluminium require far more accurate rivets and as the drive to lower costs continues, tighter joints mean less material is used, so ironically it might soon be aerospace that is teaching automotive about robot deployment!"

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