The new 787 Dreamliner commercial jet from Boeing (Chicago) is receiving a lot of attention due to the fact that it is manufactured largely from composites. However, equally revolutionary is the degree to which the company has outsourced the manufacture of such major components as the airplane’s wings and fuselage assemblies. Final assembly at the company’s massive plant in Everett, WA, consists of integrating these large and highly complex subassemblies into a complete airplane. At full production, Boeing plans to do this in as little as half a week.
Central to this effort has been the aerospace automation company Advanced Integration Technology Inc. (AIT-Dallas), which built a number of positioning and drilling machines to facilitate the process.
For example, the company designed and built the automated assembly and positioning systems used to attach both wings, and the nose and tail sections to the airplane’s mid fuselage section. The machines that perform these operations include 14 different positioners mounted on the dollies and cradles that bring together the various large assemblies. By using this approach, as opposed to the large, fixed frameworks and crane moves that Boeing employed in the past, the company is able to save both time and floor space.
In operation, an integrated measurement system determines the exact location of each of the subassemblies immediately prior to the final join. This data is then used to automatically calculate how much each section needs to be moved to ensure an exact fit. The result is a process that is not only more precise, but takes just hours as opposed to days.
AIT also designed and built four circumferential drilling stands and eight portable automated drilling systems that drill and countersink the holes used to attach these same fuselage sections once they have been successfully positioned. In operation, each of the drilling heads drills and countersinks in one pass. An integrated vision system in each head allows the process to be fully automated.
Finally, AIT built a pair of large platforms that completely encircle the aft fuselage and are equipped with a pair of jib cranes to lift and position the airplane’s vertical fin and horizontal stabilizers. These large subassemblies are then joined to the fuselage with yet another AIT automated system.
As is the case with the fuselage joins forward, using these kinds of smaller, more flexible fixtures, eliminates the needs for the labor-intensive crane lifts that were required to perform these kinds of operations in the past.
For more on fixturing and automated assembly in the aerospace industry, call 972-423-8354 or visit www.aint.com.