“Some tasks require levels of accuracy greater than what a robot can deliver”


José Manuel Guerra Verdejo, manufacturing engineering manager for aerostructures at Aernnova

Aernnova is a leading designer and manufacturer of aerostructures such as wings, stabilisers and fuselages for Europe’s main OEMs. During this interview, José Manuel Guerra Verdejo describes the technological challenges currently faced by the aeronautical industry with regard to how production demands can be met in this sector to further automate and improve the efficiency of industrial robots.

What challenges is the aeronautical sector facing and what are the implications for Aernnova?

The main challenges the aeronautical industry is currently dealing with are related to sustainability, production capacity and cost reductions for airplanes currently in the production stage and for new developments that will eventually arrive and are implicitly associated with two interrelated objectives:

  1. The strengthening of processes to diminish variability and increase the reliability of production resources.
  2. A rapid acceleration of production rates to ensure that products can be delivered to customers when demanded by the market and to provide delay-free coverage.

Aernnova´s response as a TIER-1 company supplying different structures to leading OEMs in the aeronautical sector has given rise to changes in the production model that are more focused on providing assembly lines specifically designed to accommodate different products and meet high levels of demand never achieved in commercial programmes.

Consequently, the major technological leap required to achieve absolute control of essential processes such as drilling, inspection and riveting will allow production lines to be strengthened and deliver goods to our customers in a timely manner in addition to helping us learn how ‘zero defects’ can be achieved in a predictive manner.

Repetitiveness is the key advantage automation provides and allows us to achieve stability in terms of process results every time it is carried out. It is, in fact, a lever that allows substantial leaps to be made when production efficiency is to be improved. 

As it is known that, in this situation, increasing the level of automation is one the most important challenges, could you name some of the most strategic knowledge-related elements and technologies required to ensure this transition?

Production lines already operating in the sector associated with aerostructures and multi-product companies are characterised by numerous manual activities. We are applying automatic robot operations to tasks featuring a high degree of process efficiency. Our new tools are obviously related to technologies associated with the digital industry.

We are transforming our automatic processes into preventive quality systems to guarantee their full availability and obtain products in accordance with engineering requirements. We are assisted by AI to maintain the robustness of production systems with regard to automated and manual tasks that coexist within a mutual balance where no deviations can be tolerated. 

As our ultimate goal consists in avoiding all types of assembly line shutdowns, we have been forced to focus on the preventive-detective stage for any kind of risk to intervene in an early stage to prevent defects in our end products.   

All of the specialised technical knowledge at the disposal of the industrialisation and production department has been geared towards meeting all programming requirements, multi-stack and multilateral drilling strategies, sequences, parameters… 

Innovative solutions have been applied to the pulsating production line as well as to the multi-product cell. Artificial vision, sensoring, data analysis and monitoring of key parameters have been incorporated to both of them. Even so, more developments will take place in the future and there will be a more extensive deployment of AI to make improvements with regard to product-environment inspections, metrological support and digital twins to modulate production flows and performance adequately.  

What role is being played by robots and their enhanced features in this transition?

As described generically, the main strength of a robot is that it can perform repetitive tasks, although accuracy is a weakness.

In Aernnova’s case, repetitive tasks are associated with the drilling of aeronautical components for which a higher level of accuracy is required and this cannot be achieved by a robot.

In drilling operations, the degree of robot accuracy affects compliance in terms of accurate positioning which, when addressed exclusively from the perspective quality parameters, is directly related to distances from the edge, spacing between drillings, distances from radii or echelons. This NON-quality has direct repercussions with regard to potential losses in terms of production, money and faulty parts.

One of the main objectives of the project in which Tekniker will be involved will consist in improving this feature.

How would you rate Tekniker’s vision and scientific-technological capabilities in this transformation process? 

Aernnova’s goal is to ensure robot accuracy in a location programmed off-line and for which the definition of the robot’s positions and parameters must be taken into account.

Two lines of work were proposed subsequent to reporting these needs to Tekniker, namely:

  1. Correcting the parameters of the controllers used by the robot, although there are limits to this manipulation.
  2. Working with real-life and theoretical system models, integrating directly on trajectory positions based on having previously calculated the amount of repositioning required to minimise errors.

Aernnova has the utmost confidence that this development will make progress as demonstrated by the conversations held with Tekniker and the demonstrators presented at their facilities.