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Hold the plane!

By Errin Major

Above: Schematic shows the independent but interconnected nature of the control platforms for each section. The Siemens SCALANCE wireless technology is used for system switching. Click for a closer look.

Integrator delivers aircraft body assembly project with precision

June 2013 - Advanced Integration Technology, Plano, Texas, is a 20-year-old supplier of turnkey industrial automation systems for the aerospace industry. The company’s strength centers on designing and building complex, fully integrated manufacturing, tooling and assembly systems for commercial and military aircraft produced by the world’s leading suppliers, including Boeing, Bombardier, EADS, British Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Spirit AeroSystems, Vought and others. Its reputation as an established partner with these companies is well-known, despite its relative corporate youth. AIT operates five locations in the U.S., Canada, Sweden and Spain to serve its growing customer base.

On a recent project involving the Boeing 787, AIT designed and built all final body assembly systems needed to join the major fuselage components, plus a moving production line. Key elements in this design included the motion control system, servo drive platforms, failsafe CPUs and all distributed I/O, with the entire hardware suite communicating over a Profinet network.

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As a prime contractor on the 787, AIT had responsibility for the final assembly and body join functions, charged with delivering a fully automated positioning and joining system. In the end, AIT provided two complete assembly systems and one positioning system. The three main sections of the fuselage are joined with 14 positioners mounted to transport structures that move either independently or interlocked and indexed to the factory floor for stability. Real-time positioning measurement data are logged with an integrated indoor GPS. AIT designed the alignment and positioning systems to allow rolling them under the aircraft dollies after the sections were brought into the Boeing factory, radically reducing auxiliary equipment needs, material handling requirements and additional positioning steps in the overall process.

On site at Boeing, the 14 positioning system components are moved into their respective locations near the cradle dollies and engaged to lift and move the aircraft sections. Once the system is rigidly joined, a measurement system onboard locates the airplane sections. This information is fed to the AIT system’s software application. From those data points, the system calculates how much each section (nose, tail, left and right wings) must move to ensure an exact fit to the adjoining section. This precise alignment ensures a smooth and more rapid build of each aircraft’s fuselage.

In commenting on this system’s requirements for his company, Ed Chalupa, president of AIT, explains: “We looked for a supplier with an off-the-shelf selection of automation and motion control solutions, who could offer us global support. Our goal here was to align ourselves with a leading automation technology supplier and to utilize all current software and control technology advancements. Both Boeing and AIT were keenly sensitive to lifecycle security issues in this critical area of the project.” He further notes it was vital the chosen supplier be able to provide comprehensive application engineering support, training on both the products and software, plus prototype and demo equipment for AIT’s use with its customer and internally, with ongoing technical support agreements covering both the products and software updates.

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After considerable review of several contenders, the selection was made for Siemens control system components.

The basic scheme of the motion control system AIT implemented for Boeing includes a Simotion D motion controller, Siemens HMI on a Windows-based PC, a Simatic S7 PLC for safety and multiple I/O modules, all on a Profinet network. This basic architecture was then multiplied by the number of control nodes for each specific operational system in the overall production line being designed by AIT. Each unit is capable of working independently of the others in the line or, with the addition of relatively few Profinet cables and mode selections on each unit, as a single entity. When running in this latter configuration, as the combined final body join assembly tool, the safety devices are likewise working in concert, providing proper response levels to all E-stop events on the line. Each unit motion controller receives commands to perform uniform group movements with the tool as a whole via network communications from the HMI.

Specifically, the Siemens Simotion D motion controller used here controls all axis movements to accurately position and align parts. Because AIT delivers a turnkey and dedicated system, customers have no need for further internal customization of the controller hardware or HMI panels.

AIT designed the overall layout of the control architecture, programmed the Simotion system with the Simatic S7 PLC, distributed I/O and integrated safety and provided support on the Boeing internal structure and lifecycle support requirements.

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In the field, the final assembly and body join automated assembly systems, plus positioning system provided to Boeing, join Section 41 (forward fuselage), Sections 47/48 (aft fuselage) and Section 12 (left and right side wings) to the mid-fuselage of the 787 aircraft. Two major sub-assemblies, namely the forward/aft body positioners and left/right wing positioners, are further split for transport into left- and right-hand minor sub-assemblies.

AIT designs and manufactures custom tooling and assembly equipment used to fabricate and assemble major commercial and military aircraft. As part of its total value proposition, AIT houses more than 500,000 sq. ft. for engineering, precision metal fabrication, machining and assembly of its production systems. The company’s equipment typically is used for assembly, as well as machining of all the current aircraft structure materials including aluminum, aluminum alloys, titanium, carbon fiber, Invar and other specialty alloys and composite substrates. FFJ

Errin Major is an industrial account manager with Siemens Industry Inc., Grand Prairie, Texas.

Sources

  • Advanced Integration Technology
    Plano, Texas
    phone: 972/423-8354
    fax: 972/423-8469
    www.aint.com
  • Siemens Industry, Inc.
    Motion Control Production Machine Business

    Elk Grove Village, Ill.
    phone: 847/640-1595
    fax: 847/437-0784
    www.usa.siemens.com/cnc


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