With a production facility in France and two in Germany, Eurocopter’s output of civil and military helicopters depends on the flexibility and speed with which different assembly lines can be set up. "Helicopters are not mass production items. They are made in small series of up to 500 units and specifically fitted out to meet the customer’s specifications," explains Reinhold Grosskopf, manager of production machinery design. "One can easily imagine that designing our production machinery to be highly flexible demands and open-minded approach regarding various assembly setups required for helicopter components."
By using Item’s modular assembly kit systems, the company’s in-house production machinery department can create assembly lines. Using Item’s Quick & Easy design CD, Eurocopter can integrate the individual system components from its own computer-aided design drawings, which generates a detailed parts list. "Item then provides us with ready-cut aluminum profiles and components, which we then just have to assemble," says Grosskopf. "Compared to the assembly work with our old system, we now have a 25 percent time savings."
"Even minor modifications to an assembly unit can now be made within a short time, because we do not need to worry about welding. We can simply remove or replace individual components directly on-site, without interrupting production. The new elements are then adjusted using a laser tracker."
Although steel jigs had mainly been used due to rigidity and precision requirements, Grosskopf was particularly intrigued by two key characteristics of the aluminum profiles. "The cross-sectional shapes and heat-expansion properties in all three profile planes had to be highly homogeneous. The slightly raised grooves on the outer sides of the profiles enable us to use prestressed bolts in the riveting areas, where high dynamic forces are applied, without having to retighten them," he says.
Before using the modular kit system, the company had designed its assembly jigs as enclosed constructions. But this had a drawback. To reach the inside of the jig, the assembly staff had to climb over a threshold. By using the modular components, the company was able to build openly accessible constructions, without compromising rigidity. This now allows unrestricted floor-level access into the assembly area.
Since its introduction at the production facilities of Eurocopter, the modular kit systems have become integrated into 50 large-scale production setups, plus 150 assembly aides for landing gear, the central section of helicopter bodies, as well as Airbus doors and hatches. In addition, there are numerous fitting jigs, and drilling and milling jigs.
"This extremely flexible design principle of modular units has had a very positive effect on the creativity of our production machinery department. This enables us to create solutions that had not been possible using steel constructions," says Grosskopf.
For more information on modular building kit systems, call 888-729-4500 or visit www.itemamerica.com.