Airbus Military uses laser projection in the assembly process of the A400M
The Samba Laser RDI project, financed by the Andalusian Technological Corporation, has developed a laser projection system for use in the assembly process which increases the productivity of the final assembly lines
Through an RDI project co-financed by the Andalusian Technological Corporation (CTA), the aeronautical company Airbus Military has developed a new system for use in aircraft assembly based on laser projections, which improves the precision and traceability of these operations. The system is being implemented on the assembly line of the A400M military airlifter, which is being assembled in the Airbus Military plant at San Pablo, Seville. The improvement to productivity is mainly due to the time savings for both the assembly process and preparation of job instructions by the engineering department. The SAMBA Laser system is an assembly support system which provides technicians with the information they need to carry out assembly tasks and guides them through the process in place of the templates currently habitually used for aircraft assembly. This reduces the time required to prepare the information related with the process and obviates the need for templates (Mylar, drawings and Technical Instructions), as well as reducing the risk of errors. Under the procedure, an engineer enters information regarding the assembly processes on a 3-D electronic model which is then projected onto the aircraft to provide guidance for the related assembly tasks.
Precision and exactitude
Aircraft assembly involves processes which require determination of the exact location of certain operations, such as drilling, placement of couplings and the manual placement of layers of carbon fiber. It is also necessary to know other detailed information regarding the operation to be carried out, such as the drill diameter, the sequence and the code of the part which is to be placed in each position. Precision is fundamental in the execution of these operations, as the tolerance is very strict. Accordingly, templates are used for the assembly process to ensure the perfect execution of the task in question, defining both the sequence and the fundamental and critical parameters for the operation (dimensions of the components and tightening torques for joints, characteristics of sealant systems, etc).
The SAMBA Laser system substitutes these templates with direct projection on the aircraft structures of the information relating to the assembly processes. This project arose to meet the need for an alternative to the templates used in the assembly process, which are difficult and expensive to make and store and are prone to modifications. This initiative has made an important leap forward to link programming systems for major electronic models which undergo constant modifications as the product progresses, enabling the use of information relating to the manufacturing process which has been included by the design team. Until now, laser projection systems had only been used as support for the production of carbon fiber parts, while the SAMBA Laser Project proposes to use this technology on the final assembly lines of aircraft. To do so, a specific software program has been developed which is integrated with CATIA/ DELMIA v5 (the CAD/CAM software used by Airbus). In addition, the system is fully integrated with the company’s PDM (Product Data Management) system, so it is ready for immediate use and is integrated in the life cycle of the product, with no significant effort being required for its implementation.
The time involved to compile the elements required to carry out the operation (jigs and tools, Mylar, etc), assemble them in the workplace and achieve perfect coordination accounts for a high percentage of the time required for the entire process. This assembly support system based on laser projection will enable a considerable increase in productivity for the execution of certain assembly operations.
The most significant technology developments under the project are:
- Laser projection systems applied to the assembly process.
- PDM Systems.
- Processing of data relating to the product structure.
- C++ Programming using the CAA-RADE tool by Dassault Systèmes to create new commands and incorporate them in CATIA menus and toolbars.
- Post-processors. Interfaces between programming and projection systems.
The Project, which offers an advantage over rival manufacturers and which has involved the participation of the Computer Systems research group of the University of Seville and the companies T_Systems and VIRTEK, has aroused significant interest due to its utility and the incorporation of groundbreaking functionalities such as a in-context programming system, a powerful interface between the programming system and the projection system and a new version of the control software specifically designed to project assembly information. Airbus Military has affirmed that “having well-planned, traceable and reliable assembly processes enables us to guarantee continued quality improvement and reduce assembly times, which is fundamental to ensure our competitiveness.”
This technology, which Airbus Military intends to patent, represents an advantage over its rivals in terms of time, cost and safety and may be applied to other industrial sectors such as the naval and rail sector. The Andalusian Technological Corporation has financed another seven projects by Airbus Military in addition to the Samba Laser Project, five of which have also been completed. The eight Airbus Military projects sponsored by CTA have involved an investment of more than 16 million euros, including funding of 4.39 million euros from the CTA.