GKN Aerospace (Redditch, Worcestershire, U.K.) reported on Feb. 12 that it is leading a project under the U.K. Structures Technology Maturity (STeM) program that aims to automate the assembly of aircraft structures with the goal of creating consistently high-quality wing structures 30 percent faster than is possible today.
This STeM program is based on an advanced winglet as the demonstrator component, using this to progress a range of innovative assembly technologies. The complete assembly tooling and robotic strategy for the winglet has been developed by GKN Aerospace in collaboration with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at Sheffield University and NIKON Metrology. Designed to be generic and therefore equally applicable to many future aircraft wing and fuselage structures, the process uses many emerging automated and robotic techniques that, as well as speeding assembly, will provide a consistent end product.
Richard Oldfield, technical director, GKN Aerospace, comments: “ As an industry we must step up production rates to meet future demand whilst ensuring the structures we design and build meet ever-more demanding aircraft performance requirements. This STeM project is enabling GKN Aerospace and our partners to evolve and assess a number of promising assembly technologies and processes that could give us the performance, tolerances, affordability and integrity we will need in the coming decades.”
Among the novel processes being progressed through this STeM program are lightweight fixturing, reconfigurable tooling, automated part positioning, assisted deposition of sealant, metrology assisted robotics, lightweight drilling heads, lightweight fastening heads for single-sided fasteners, automated scanning for accurate countersink drilling and automated fastener inspection.
The aim of the STeM project is to support new concepts in wing structure and manufacturing that enable expansion of the boundaries of aerodynamic performance and contribute to securing work in the U.K. for next-generation aircraft. GKN Aerospace leads the STeM Advanced Winglet project, with Bombardier, Spirit AeroSystems and GE partnering.