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Mobile Robots to Support Plane Manufacturing

MAGDEBURG, Germany – Man and machine will soon be working in tandem to safely manufacture airplanes.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation has developed a mobile robot that moves autonomously through production halls to support airplane technicians. Based on the omniRob, a mobile robot developed by KUKA Laboratories of Augsburg, the robotic assistant is designed to relieve mechanics from stressful or monotonous duties while working safely by their side.

“When we assemble fuselage elements, large quantities of sealant have to be applied to the joints. Mobile robots can take over this work quite well,” said José Saenz, head of the project. Stationary robots, however, are not suited for the long-term assembly of large, unwieldy airplane components in one facility.

Photo courtesy of Fraunhofer.

“The elements of an airplane fuselage are too large for them to be adapted to a conventional production robot,” Saenz said. “You cannot rotate or turn them so that the system can work on them, so it has to be the other way around. The robot drives to the desired location in the airplane.”

To guarantee safety and security, Saenz and his team of colleagues outfitted the mobile robot with cameras, touch-sensitive interfaces and a cushioning layer. The sensors attach to the robot like an artificial skin, preventing and sensing unintended collisions.

“The unique thing about our system is the coordinated movement of all degrees of freedom,” Saenz said. “While the platform is driving, the manipulator is moving at the same time. There has not yet been a system of this kind with such a large action radius, until now.”

The robot’s multi-extension grip arm possesses 12 degrees of freedom, moving forward, backward, up, down and sideways, with various rotations. The robot safely executes tasks and identifies airplane elements while accelerating production.

“With these robots, we are getting one step closer to the factory of the future,” Saenz said.

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