Automated wing flap assembly at Airbus
As recently as in 1999, flaps for the A321 series aircraft where the only ones assembled, at Airbus facilities in Bremen, Germany. With the support of approx. 40 employees, roughly 30 ship sets were successfully delivered. Flaps for all other Airbus aircraft series were assembled in other manufacturing locations. The challenge was to find ways to automate the process.
The manual assembly process
Traditional procedures and steps for the manual assembly of flaps were characterized by:
- Frame component placement in jig (end ribs, tracks, front spar, and form ribs)
- Lower skin to frame alignment, lock-down, and drilling
- Lower skin removal (from frame), hole deburring, and frame cleaning
- Sealant application to lower skin, ribs, tracks, and spar
- Skin to frame re-alignment and final fastening cycle
The primary problem associated with automation was the required disassembly of the upper skin panel, nose cap, and trailing edge components from the frame subassembly in order to remove any residual chips, caps or adhesives from the closed flap structures.
In an effort to source a clean drilling process that did not leave chip trails behind, Orbital Drilling™ was examined. Research indicated that the Orbital Drilling process, combined with a powerful chip vacuum unit, had potential conformant to full production drilling, and countersinking requirements.
In a joint effort with BROETJE-Automation the concept of a Modular Assembly Cell for automated drilling, countersinking, and fastening of closed structures became reality.
AROCS (Automated Riveting of Closed Structures)
An AROCS machine was developed with an Orbital Orbital Drilling Unit on the End Effector. By virtue of Orbital Drilling, holes are manufactured which display diameters exceeding that of the tool; in other words, the gap between tool diameter and the hole diameter is large enough to warrant, in process, vacuum removal of all chips including the cap!
Orbital Drilling™ makes drilling through both the flap skin and frame components possible in a single, automated production pass, without having to again remove the flap skin for deburring and cleaning of the now closed flap structure.
AROCS Assembly Cells achieve fastening cycle times of up to 5 fasteners/min. depending on material strength and fastener type.
The number of landing flaps assembled rose from approximately 30 ship sets in 1999 to more than 300 in 2004. The Airbus, Bremen facility has transformed itself into a High Lift Device, Center of Competence manufacturer.
By the end of 2004, flaps for the following aircraft series was planned to be integrated:
• A318/A319/A320/A321 Inner and Outer Flaps
• A330/A340 Inner Flaps
• A340-500/600 Outer Flaps
• A380 Inner, Middle, and Outer Flaps
A Orbital EX3 is mounted on the AROCS
Benefits with the AROCS solution using Orbital Drilling:
- Reduced fastening
- Reduced run time
- Increased Drilling and fastening Quality
- Repeatable Quality
- Lower Man Hours