1) What does aerospace automation look like today?
One of the biggest automation integration challenges is the small lot sizes many aerospace manufacturers work with. Small lot sizes and complex parts can make automation seem costly or not even an option. So, aerospace automation uses many flexible setup techniques that we have become accustomed to, such as easily adjustable infeed/outfeed systems and end-of-arm tools.
A flexible system we use at Methods takes advantage of loading a common workholding platform for many different parts. The specific part is held in one of several ways – such as a vise, collet holder, or clamps – but the platform is common in how the robot will grab and how the machine will clamp by using a zero-point clamping system. The robot picks up and moves this common platform into and out of the machine. No setup is needed for the automation or machine between parts.
These automation systems can easily and efficiently run multiple different parts in lot sizes as low as one if needed. The Methods RoboDrill Plus K is a system which takes advantage of these features.
2) What is the best use of automation in aerospace?
The best way is to start by building on the infrastructure you have. Upgrading your 3- and 4-axis machines to a full 5-axis and seeing where robotics can be integrated into your current machine lineup is the quickest way to take advantage of limited floor space.
The more you can automate your production, the less you are spending on idle labor sitting at a machine waiting for it to finish to move it to the next step in the process.
3) What are automation’s biggest benefits?
While the automation used in aerospace is vastly different than the automation used in automotive, benefits are similar in increased productivity. Automation provides more parts in the bucket at the end of the day with less labor to achieve it. Automation doesn’t stop for lunch or breaks but can run well into the next shift, or all the way through it, with limited labor. It can load parts correctly time and time again, which will be the same again and again.
4) How is automation attacking the shortage of qualified engineers?
A popular story is how robots are putting people out of work, but in our manufacturing industry, this is just not the case. There is a severe shortage in qualified workers, and this problem is industry wide. Automation helps by reducing the need for human intervention in manufacturing. We still need quality employees, but automation can reduce this. One exciting result is the re-shaping of available career trajectories. As more jobs open up in automation and robotics, the industry can grow its workforce naturally.
Training and Education is a major focus of Methods. With every solution that goes out, we also spend time training our customers’ engineers on-site and at one of our eight technical centers across the United States. We continually host educational tours where we expose educators and students to the advanced work done in manufacturing and how to make a career out of it.
5) What is the future of aerospace automation?
Successful manufacturers are already implementing automation in their shops. As competition increases we will see more automation, and specifically, more robotics on shop floors that will be able to handle the low-volume, complex, close-tolerance parts that make the aerospace industry unique.
For more info: http://methodsmachine.com