Automating aerospace component production & QC

Tribal knowledge, an aging production process, and a dwindling number of skilled craftsmen capable of keeping up with growing demand provided one aerospace component manufacturer with plenty of good reasons to consider automation. Applied Motion Systems undertook the challenge to re-envision how these components could be manufactured and produced a purpose engineered solution that reduced dependence upon skilled labor and eliminated most manual tasks.

The results speak for themselves as tens of thousands of components of consistently high quality are produced, inspected, and sorted in a fully automated work cell that is quickly becoming a key production asset for the manufacturer.

Precise Part Marking

The manufacturing process begins with a coil of steel strip that is indexed through the machine and marked by an integrated Keyence Class IV 25W laser. Each mark on the strip steel includes the part number, lot number, and manufacturer’s name. The underside of the metal strip is coated with a proprietary lubricating material that withstands the rigors of part formation without loss of lubricity.

 

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The first step in the implementation of the Class IV laser was to design and fabricate a laser-safe enclosure capable of protecting plant personnel from laser radiation with the potential to severely damage human tissue. The enclosure design features containment measures that prevent laser light from escaping during the part marking operation.

Critical to this design are the failsafe interlocks on the enclosure panels that inhibit the laser from firing when covers are removed, ensuring that the laser is safe to operate in a production environment as a Class I device. AMS Environmental, Health and Safety engineers certified the design and registered the laser marking system with the FDA.

Aligning Parts for Exact Forming

As the laser marked strip is indexed into the forming portion of the machine, precise positioning of the strip is crucial in ensuring that laser markings are properly aligned on the parts after forming. To achieve this alignment, Siemens servo motors coordinate precisely with the laser marking system as the steel strip is advanced through the machine and into the forming tooling. A vision system periodically verifies the mark position and quality, providing feedback to the servo and laser marking systems to make any needed registration corrections.

In an effort to reduce investment in tooling and spares, AMS designed this automation cell around the client’s existing part forming tooling. Using Siemens technology, including SINAMICS S210 drives coupled with a SIMATIC S7-1500 Technology PLC, tooling position and orientation are automatically managed with tightly controlled clearances between the various part forming surfaces. Once formed in the forming nest, the part is captured for further processing and feature inspection.

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In a carefully choreographed operation, two Fanuc LR Mate 200iD robots sequentially synchronize with the forming section to capture formed parts as they are parted from the strip of steel. The robots then deliver them to subsequent stations for processing. First, all formed parts are maneuvered to the deburring station where a specific area on each part is buffed.

To ensure the part is correctly positioned before deburring, sensors measure its prominent features and the deburr position is calibrated accordingly. Depending on the part being made, the robot may then deliver the deburred part to a second forming station to create precise chamfer features. Once this process is completed, a robot moves in once more to collect the newly featured part and present it to the automation cell’s inspection station.

Optical Part Inspection and Sorting

The part inspection station consists of an AMS designed illumination hood and a Cognex In-Sight 9912 camera with precision lens. A robot presents the formed part to the camera for feature measurement by the vision system which reports the results to the S7-1500T PLC. From there the processed data is pushed to the plant’s quality assurance database. After passing inspection, the part is maneuvered to the delivery station by the robot where it is stripped from the robot’s end-of-arm tooling into the appropriate storage bin.

The manufacturing cell is capable of saving and recalling part forming recipes, controlling the frequency of part inspection, and producing a statistical sampling of parts during a manufacturing run. Performance and error checks throughout the operation detect and adjust for part defects such as scratches, parts not released from the robot end-of-arm tooling, deviations in part mark location, and tooling wear. Dust, fumes, and deburr debris are collected by an integrated vacuum system to protect the operating environment as well as sensitive equipment such as the laser marker. Surrounding the manufacturing cell is a guarding system that minimizes risk of injury during operator-machine interactions. Safety planning was based on a HIRA Risk Assessment performed by one of AMS’s three TUV-certified machine safety experts in collaboration with the customer.

Key Technologies Deployed:

  • Simatic S7-1500 Technology PLC with integrated Safety over ProfiSafe
  • Simatic KTP900F Mobile Touchscreen HMI
  • Simatic TIA Portal Multiuser development package
  • Sinamics S210 Servo drives and motors with absolute position feedback (9-axes)
  • Fanuc LR Mate 200iD robots with collision prevention license and ProfiNet interface
  • Cognex In-Sight 9912 Vision based inspection system
  • Keyence MD-X1500 Class IV YV04 25W laser marking system
  • Festo pneumatic valve bank with ProfiNet interface to PLC

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