Bombardier Aerospace, Montréal, Canada, has decided to use robots to assemble much of the cockpit and fuselage sections of the company’s new CSeries of jetliners. The goal is to reduce worker injuries, especially repetitive-motion types, and improve consistency and quality in the assembly process. As a bonus, the company calculates the robots will cut 40 hr from the assembly time for each plane.
Until now, Bombardier aircraft have been manually assembled. But the new aircraft, with a diameter of 12 ft, is larger than any airliner the company has ever built. Manual assembly would require time-consuming construction of scaffolding to reach all parts of the plane.
Instead, the company will use six 12-ton robotic arms capable of reaching the top and bottom of the aircraft. The weight, much of it in the base, makes the robots stable enough to accurately install fasteners. Each robot can drill a hole, then rivet or hammer a fastener into the lithium-aluminum fuselage every 32 sec. For composite sections of the fuselage, the process takes 53 sec and includes a step in which sealant is added. Each robot mounts on a movable platform that lifts and lowers.
The company estimates that four robots can join all the fuselage sections in 17 hr. Machine vision on the robots ensures holes for fasteners are accurate to within 0.01 in. There is also a pair of lasers on each robot that projects a crosshair pattern tangent to the surface and centered on the fastener. They can detect if an installed fastener is flush with the fuselage.