Airbus Helicopters has announced plans to use robots to paint Airbus Helicopter parts and do other repetitive tasks. The company plans to use a “new generation of humanoid robots” to do this, with the robots imitating “what they see,” rather than being autonomous.
Initially they will start using robots to paint primary Airbus Helicopter parts like the rotor hub, as well as some quite complex markings and decorations on their aircraft.
The company introduced its first robotic applications in 2015, and has said that it will continue to release additional robotic applications “every year or so.” However there is no plan to replace humans with robots. Rather, it is planned that robots will automate “high-volume repetitive activities” allowing people to focus on other important tasks.
According to Georges-Eric Moufle who heads Airbus Helicopters’ Aeronautical Factory of the Future project, robots will allow them to optimize the “finishing painting workflow” with “low energy consumption.” He further describes this workflow as a process that starts with preparation of the aircraft’s green surface and ends with curing of the final topcoat of paint.
Ultimately, the use of robots for painting Airbus Helicopter parts will help the company “optimize weight and cycle savings,” says Moufle.
The Role of Robots in Airbus Group’s Factory of the Future
According to Airbus robotics expert, Adolfo Suarez Roos, the company aims to develop robots that will be able to interact safely with humans and will be able to adapt to unexpected situations. It was working through the ICARO project to do this, he said.
ICARO (Increase of CAR Occupancy) is a European transport research project that was originally launched in 1997 to develop car-pooling policies in an endeavor to increase car occupancy rates in EU countries.
In a joint interview with Suarez Roos in 2014, Chrisoph Borst, head of autonomy and teleoperation at the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Robotics and Mechantronics said that for 15 years they had been developing motion capabilities of robots. The next stage was to include human workers, and develop language that would enable them to work with robots. Since the process of human thinking is “really complicated,” he said they would start with relatively simple interactions and cited human collaborations with dogs as an example.
Since Airbus produces on average 1.5 aircraft every day, Suarez Roos said they needed to program robots to do tasks that last several hours.
In addition to painting Airbus Helicopter parts, the company is planning to get robots to do waterproofing tests on doors, windows and fuselages. Robots would be programed to track each bit of these various Airbus Helicopter parts, listening for noises that might indicate leaks of any sort in the airframe. They are also reportedly looking at using robots to increase automation when manufacturing the skin of helicopter blades.
Prime Industries Role in Provision of Airbus Helicopter Parts
While US-based Prime Industries doesn’t have any plans to employ robots in the foreseeable future, the company does offer new, repaired and overhauled Airbus Helicopter parts, as well as parts for Airbus planes, Lockheed and Boeing. Prime Industries also offers Airbus Helicopter maintenance services.