Powerful robot for aircraft construction

Because traditional industrial robots have reached their limits, machine and plant builder Broetje-Automation has developed its own “aerospace robot.” It brings significantly more power to the component and it’s more accurate and extremely flexible to use.

At a certain point, high process forces could no longer be applied without compromising productivity. The traditional articulated-arm kinematics drifted or broke away whenever stronger forces were required for clamping, drilling, or fastening aircraft components.

 

As a result, the engineers at Broetje-Automation began developing the Power RACe (Power Robot Assembly Cell), the key element of which is a 6-axis articulated arm robot. It was designed for the automated drilling and fastening of various aircraft components, including wing boxes, stabilizers, fuselage, and other applications that require high power.

Reliance on a well-known CNC system

“The entirely positive feedback from our customers proves that developing our own aerospace robot was the right step at the right time,” says Christian Heyers, Vice President Engineering Electrical, Controls, and RD at Broetje-Automation. “It became a success in a very short time, largely because we relied on Sinumerik, a high-performance CNC system well-known and accepted by us and on the world market.”

 

After less than a year, the Power RACe was placed in productive operation at the plant of a prestigious aircraft manufacturer. Nine additional Power RACes went into operation in other customers’ plants immediately afterwards. Siemens control and drive technology made a significant contribution to the extremely short development time. Broetje-Automation used the premium CNC Sinumerik 840D sl, modular Sinamics S120 converters, and Simotics S servomotors from Siemens.

Controllerwell-established in aircraft construction

One significant advantage is that all the axes are coordinated directly – which means highly dynamically and with fast reactions – by a Sinumerik controller that’s well-established in the global aircraft construction business. “Thanks to additional high-precision sensors and absolute encoders on the important axes, we have access to all process parameters at all times and can respond to a variety of interfering influences, for the most part automatically,” says Lars Ficken, the head software developer.

Highly flexible robot

Various installation versions, additional NC axes, and an automatic high-speed tool changer with a 30-tool capacity make the Power RACe extremely flexible and productive. At the user’s request, the first Power RACe was produced as a mobile version. With a combination of air cushions and casters, the units are simply moved by forklift to different deployment locations throughout the factory, positioned by hand, and then calibrated and deployed.

 

Alternatively, a stationary version and a version mounted on a linear rail system are also available. This allows the work area to be customized to different manufacturing tasks. The Power RACe can also be used as a (stationary or mobile) handling system: for example, to precisely position heavy assemblies under stationary processing systems.

The Power RACe became a success in a very short time, largely because we relied on Sinumerik, a high-performance CNC system.
Christian Heyers, Vice President Engineering Electrical, Controls, and RD, Broetje-Automation

Performance improved by 40 percent

The first users of the Power RACe had an external service provider verify its measuring and repeat accuracy. The result: The specified target values were consistently achieved and many were exceeded. The Power RACe also proved itself in practice. Drilling time for titanium parts was reduced by up to 50 percent, the level of automation in titanium and aluminum machining was increased by up to 40 percent, and overall performance was about 40 percent higher compared with standard robot applications – all this after an extremely short startup phase.

Broetje-Automation is the world's leading expert on the specialized production processes in the aviation and aerospace industry. With a team of roughly 850 employees and locations in Rastede, Germany, the U.S., France, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and China, the company plans and implements highly efficient solutions for aircraft assembly. Its service portfolio encompasses the entire range of process, manufacturing, connection, and automation expertise relevant for the aerospace industry – from the initial idea and concept analysis to planning and simulation all the way to successful realization.