MMS Blog

Automating processes with robotics can have numerous benefits, but robots require programming, a typically manual process that can be complex and lead to costly problems like collisions. The NASA Advanced Composites Project is working on a process that not only automates inspection of airplane fuselages using collaborative robots (cobots) from Universal Robots, it automates the programming of the cobots with software from robotic software simulation developer RoboDK. This system has the potential to save time and money while providing better, more consistent results than fully manual inspection processes.

The NASA Advanced Composites Project works to improve methods, tools and protocols as well as reduce development and certification timelines for composite materials and structures as their applications increase. One of its goals is to speed the inspection of composite structures and improve measurement results by ensuring that the inspection procedure does not miss any areas of a structure. One inspection method is infrared thermography, which uses a precise flash of light to create a pulse of heat. As the material cools, researchers analyze how the heat flows through the part to reveal hidden defects and abnormal substructures without damaging the part. However, infrared inspection equipment is large and heavy, and it must be moved across the entire surface of the part inside and out to ensure a comprehensive inspection. Manual inspections of large composite products, such as airplane fuselages, require multiple operators for extended time periods, adding cost and complexity.

As companies expand, it can be difficult to scale up systems to keep pace with growth. As Elite Aerospace Group (EAG)’s size and scope increased, it found its legacy system of managing data to be increasingly unwieldy. The company implemented a product lifecycle management (PLM) system from PTC (Needham, Massachusetts), which gave it the document management capabilities, security and accessibility it needed; but cost, ease of use and scalability became a concern. Working with the same company, EAG implemented a “bolt-on” app that improved the efficiency of the PLM system while simultaneously reducing the operational cost of the system by half. 

EAG started as a single machine shop in Irvine, California, operating in the aerospace and military sectors. The company initially performed contract manufacturing, managing customer and internal data on network folders and thumb drives. As EAG grew, it established an engineering department responsible for creating engineering data such as 2D drawings and CAD files.

“A few years ago, this session would have been dedicated to quality engineers,” said Norbert Hanke, president of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. Speaking at HxGN Live, parent company Hexagon AB’s annual conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, Mr. Hanke heads a division with roots in equipment like Browne and Sharpe coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), Romer measuring arms and Leica laser trackers. Nonetheless, his audience also included personnel who work in production and engineering. There’s good reason why: Armed with the latest software and sensors, manufacturers can use data gathered from measuring equipment to improve processes at every phase of a product’s development. However, making this work requires all involved, from design engineers to CAM programmers to shopfloor personnel, to participate in quality control.

Hexagon aims to be well-positioned to help shops that get past this change in thinking. In recent years, the company has complemented its long-standing focus on the physical world of measurement with a slew of recent software acquisitions. These companies all specialize in the virtual—specifically, the creation, manipulation and analysis of data-embedded 3D models representing real-world assets. Making enterprises “smart,” whether they be factories, mines, construction sites or entire cities, requires these digital twins to precisely reflect what measuring instruments reveal about their real-world counterparts. The closer the match, the greater the potential to identify problems and opportunities before anything happens in the real world.

Sponsored Content 13. July 2018

Passive/Dynamic Vibration Damping: How It Works

Vibration is generated by the changing forces that occur when making chips. The intermittent forces are apparent in the interrupted cutting process of milling and also appear in turning operations when the toolholder bar is periodically loaded and unloaded as chips form and break.

A passive approach to vibration control in machining operations involves maximizing the rigidity of elements within the machining system. For example, to restrict unwanted movement, machine tool manufacturers can utilize rigid structural elements, fill internal chambers with concrete or another vibration-absorbing material and make machines larger and heavier overall.

Earlier this year, I traveled to Japan on a National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA)-sponsored tour of the production facilities of Okuma and Big Daishowa (Big Kaiser is a member of the Big Daishowa group). I, along with several NTMA members, also got to take in technology presentations from those companies (as well as Blaser Swisslube) and see some machining demonstrations. The gallery above highlights some of my experiences.

Okuma calls its two newest machining and assembly facilities Dream Sites (DS). DS1, which also serves as the company’s global headquarters, was completed in 2013; DS2 was completed in 2017. Both share a campus north of Nagoya in the town of Oguchi, which is in the Aichi Prefecture.

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