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Robotic 3D Scanning Research To Reduce Aircraft Assembly Cost

Researchers in Northern and Southern Ireland have created a compelling advanced prototype for Airbus using robotics and 3D scanning that could contribute to reducing the cost of aircraft assembly. Researchers included Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) and TEG with significant contributions from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. The research was carried out as part of the European Measurement Aided Assembly of Large-scale Structures (MAAS) project.

The project had three objectives:

– Develop an end-to-end assembly process to reduce the costs in the aircraft assembly operations

– To develop a robot scanning solution to scan and inspect an aircraft wing using a mobile collaborative robot platform

– Generate and manage digital 3D scans of the aircraft parts for best fit assembly operations.

This research has the potential to transform the large-scale assembly processes in Aircraft manufacture, greatly reducing waste and cost.

Airbus, as the end-user in the project, set stringent requirements on the development of an advanced prototype to ensure a smooth transfer in their operations. The Robotics & Automation Group within IMR, set about developing the Robotic Platform which would enable full coverage on wing panels & wing stabilizers.

Both Hexagon & Queen University Belfast were engaged. The interdisciplinary cohort collaboratively built, integrated, and demonstrated a robotics 3D scanning solution capable of capturing and registering 3D point clouds of individual wing panels and full 7-meter aircraft wing stabilizer in IMR’s facility.

“This project has allowed us to deliver significant economic impact through our deep-domain expertise in robotics and automation,” said Ken Horan, director of Robotics and Automation at IMR. “Collaborating with TEG, QUB and Hexagon, all experts in their domains, has allowed us to rapidly deliver an articulated 3D scanning solution for both large and small area structures with production-ready precisions This adds to IMR’s extensive portfolio of robotic solutions for our industrial partners and has helped develop strong relationships between Queens, TEG, Hexagon with the real potential for future engagements.”

The learnings and know-how related to this advanced prototype (which achieved the all-end-user requirements) are expected to enable TEG to enhance their market offerings in the spaces of CAD, Metrology and Assembly & Design, and form part of Airbus’ next-generation production capabilities.

Paul O’Neill CMM Product Manager from Hexagon said “We were delighted to work with the teams at TEG, IMR and Queens to help deliver an effective and efficient scanning solution which delivered accuracy over a large volume. Our Spatial Analyser software provided was more than capable at performing the analysis required of all the component parts.”