Integrated assembly line produces first F-35 center fuselage

Northrop Grumman's Integrated Assembly Line, which integrates robotics and other automation, has delivered its first F-35 Lightning II fighter jet center fuselage to Lockheed Martin.

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Northrop Grumman Corp. (Palmdale, Calif., USA) reported on April 2 that the first composites-intensive F-35 Lightning II fighter jet center fuselage produced by its Integrated Assembly Line (IAL) was delivered to Lockheed Martin on March 16. While the company has delivered 69 center fuselages since 2005, this is the first produced using the IAL. The IAL maximizes robotics and automation, providing additional capacity and assembly capability while meeting engineering tolerances that are not easily achieved using manual methods.

The IAL will be central in producing the F-35's center fuselage as well as increasing the program's affordability, quality and efficiency. The technologies deployed on the IAL have created more efficient and ergonomic process for assembly. The IAL was developed and designed with the help of the KUKA Robotics Aerospace Division (Detroit, Mich., USA), a commercial automation integrator, and was inspired by automation systems used by American automakers.

The IAL design uses a system-engineering approach to integrate tooling and structure transport, system automation, automated drilling cells and tooling mechanization coordinated across multiple build centers.

"The Integrated Assembly Line's approach to tool design and fabrication marks a transition into a new way of business for Northrop Grumman," says Michelle Scarpella, vice president of the F-35 program for Northrop Grumman. "Through the implementation of a much more efficient design-to-assembly process, the Integrated Assembly Line enables the team to simultaneously achieve higher quality, reduce costs and increase efficiency."

In 2011, the company delivered 22 center fuselages and it will make its 100th delivery in December 2012.