The University of Sheffield’s AMRC have collaborated with Airbus on a project to automate the delivery of tooling supplies at Airbus’ Broughton factory. Airbus has said they could develop robots that would be able to autonomously shift entire aircraft wing assemblies at its North Wales factory.
The comments follow the announcement that the aircraft-manufacturing giant has successfully trialled autonomous mobile robots at their Broughton site. The company now say the technology could be expanded to ship entire aircraft wing assemblies as the advantages of using autonomous robotic vehicles become evident on the factory floor. Airbus trialled the technology as part of a collaborative research project involving engineers from the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). In a statement, Sheffield’s AMRC said the project hoped to automate component handling, as well as to “eliminate non-value-added operations and give significant benefits to Airbus in terms of capacity and rate ramp-up.”
The autonomous robots have a payload of 200kg and top speed of 4km/h. They are designed to move small items such as drilling tools in a storage rack designed and validated for use using augmented reality technologies at the AMRC’s Factory 2050. Factory 2050 is the UK’s first state of the art factory dedicated entirely to conducting collaborative research into reconfigurable digitally assisted assembly, component manufacturing and machining technologies.
The robots are equipped with in-built laser scanners that help robots to navigate their environment without human assistance, along with flashing lamps and beacons to specify status and intended direction to those in the vicinity. The successful trial has motivated Airbus to consider scaling up the technology to transport entire aircraft wing assemblies.
The University of Sheffield researchers are also working with AMRC to establish a business case for future deployments of AMRs across the Airbus shop floor.
They are doing this by making additional alterations to the AMRs, such as adding cameras to observe the number of tools delivered per shift and industrial laser scanners mounted vertically. These laser scanners can detect overhanging obstacles and enclose the robot in a protective field, which will alert operators to any errors; disabling the robots safely if there are any problems.
Dr Lloyd Tinkler, the ARMC Senior Project Engineer says that expanding the use of AMRs at the Broughton factory will save Airbus time and money, and augment productivity:
“Supervised trials of the robots have already taken place and estimated that utilising them could save the whole time equivalent of one operator per shift in the current use case at Airbus, freeing time for the operators to work on highly-skilled tasks, ultimately improving shop floor productivity.” The Broughton factory is home to more than 6,000 Airbus employees and has manufactured aircraft since 1939.
It has produced aviation classics such as the Vickers Wellington, Avro Lancaster, and De Havilland’s Comet and Mosquito aircraft.
In total, Airbus UK employs 14,000 people. According to Oxford Economics, the company contributed £7.8 billion to the UK economy and supported 117,000 jobs in 2015
The government has announced a multi-million-pound Aerospace Sector Deal that builds on the UK’s excellence and heritage in aerospace, aims to transform the future of flight, through electrification and autonomy, and commits to increasing gender equality in the sector. The defence and aerospace industry recorded a £10bn increase in deals over the last 12 months, with the total deals valued at £31bn.
The industry has achieved annual revenue growth of 7% over the last five years, account for 7% of UK exports and employ 338,000 people, according to trade organisation, the ADS Group. It will also be spent on developing autonomous air vehicles and better airspace management. The programme will receive £125m funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund with the other half being match funding by the aerospace industry.
Aerospace giant GKN will also receive £15m in government funding for a new Global Technology Centre. The centre will be dedicated to a variety of processes, including additive manufacturing (AM), advanced composites, assembly and industry 4.0 processes. Like the Future Flight Challenge, it will be joint-funded by government and industry and centre on R&D projects. Supporting SMEs in the UK aerospace supply chain to boost their competitiveness through a new productivity improvement programme.
Finally, the Aerospace Sector Deal commits the industry to increase diversity and inclusion by embedding the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter. Earlier in the year, 50 companies in the aerospace and aviation sector signed up to the Charter to work towards gender equality in the industry. Virgin Atlantic, BAE Systems, and Bombardier were just some of the signatories.
The ADS Group said that the sector deal shows the strength of the industry, while programmes like the Future Flight Challenge are a major opportunity for the industry to become more innovative and eco-friendly.
Businesses from the British aerospace industry are urging MPs to approve the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the UK government and the EU. Aerospace, defence, security and space trade association (ADS) and member companies including Airbus and Rolls-Royce have invited MPs to meet them in Parliament, to discuss industry’s support for the Withdrawal Agreement.
With Brexit approaching, the aerospace industry is looking to politicians to deliver certainty over arrangements after the UK leaves the EU in March.
What is the Withdrawal Agreement?
The Withdrawal Agreement would confirm a longer transition period for businesses, and enable the government time to develop and agree a comprehensive deal over Britain’s future relationship with the EU that will take effect once the transition period ends.
The advice comes after more companies ramp up their ‘No-Deal’ Brexit preparation; businesses have increased stockpiling of goods and slowed investment. ADS chief executive, Paul Everitt said in a statement, “With very little time now remaining before the UK leaves the EU, continued uncertainty is damaging to business investment and is forcing companies to implement costly contingency plans.
He said that is in the “best interests” of the UK’s aerospace, defence, security and space industries for a Withdrawal Agreement. “Further delay increases the risk of a no deal Brexit. This would be the worst possible outcome and would bring significant disruption to industry in the UK and Europe, damaging jobs and growth.”
Everitt concluded: “We hope MPs now take the earliest opportunity to approve the Withdrawal Agreement, confirming a transition period and allowing talks on our future relationship with the EU to progress.”