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Advanced flexible automation cell

State of the Art - Background

Tags: Air

European industry is constantly under pressure to meet requirements on cost efficiency in competitiveness with the global manufacturing industry. The requirements on development in production are also from demands on new product introduction, new materials used and new regulations on environmental effects, dependent on production. At the same time, it is a fact that the products produced in the aeronautical industry are products produced with relatively low volume, which will be in operation for 30 years, some times even longer, before they go out of service. This puts strong emphasis on the equipment specification when doing new investment in the production units. The main task in this project is to create a balanced production unit that is able to deliver a multi-generation, multi-size and multi-product flow of components in the same production facility, using and prioritising between the same physical machines.

In the automotive sector automation technology has been developed for a long time. It is the intention of this project to utilise the state-of-the-art technology developed in the automotive area and to improve the aspect of flexibility, low volume, multi-product and quality assurance aspects.


The aim of the project is to integrate and improve knowledge from selected areas of manufacturing that will help to build the next generation platform for advanced flexible automation cells.

The FLEXA project is set up to meet one common main objective which is defined as:

To create the tools, methods and technologies needed to define, prepare and validate an automated flexible cell that can manufacture a generic process chain allowing for safe human interaction and deliver quality assured parts for the European aerospace industry.

The FLEXA project is defined with the intention of being independent of specific solutions available, but at the same time able to integrate state-of-the-art solutions into the infrastructure used at the industrial sites.

The specific technical objectives are:

- Develop flexible automation technology based on aero industry requirements;

- Integrate key manufacturing processes in automation concept;

- Develop virtual tools supporting cell preparation, operation and restart;

- Develop knowledge engineering tools supporting automated manufacturing;

- Integrate manufacturing knowledge in design activities;

- Develop intelligent data communication protocol for manufacturing;

- Develop a quality assurance strategy that meets aerospace requirements.

Description of Work

The project is divided into five technical work packages (WP):

WP1: The main objective of WP1 is to define the requirements of a flexible automated cell for the aero engine manufacturing industry. The work described within this WP will provide the definition and background for the other WPs.

WP2: The main objective here is to develop a novel and flexible reconfigurable hardware and software environment capable of supporting the automated processing and assembly of aero engine components.

WP3: The main objective of WP3 is to apply high-level description tools for automated cells, e.g. for welding and machining. This implies increased use of virtual manufacturing in the aerospace sector. The task therefore includes specific application-related demands to be interfaced to generic automation tools. The task develops a simulation-based environment to be able to simulate and verify a whole automated cell.

WP4: The main objective here is to verify and validate cell configurations and capability as an integrated solution of tools and methods developed in the project.

WP5: The main objective is to define, develop and deliver methods and tools that allow proactive handling of fatal behaviour of an automated cell, including preparation, human-machine interaction, training and data communication to cell main control for quality assurance and safe operation.

Expected Results

The project has 113 deliverables that will be produced during a four-year period, which are evenly split over the different work packages. The most important deliverables are:

- D1.25 Handbook for cell definition and best practice document;

- D3.24 Handbook for OLP (off-line programming) and QA (quality assurance);

- D4.25 Handbook of cell operation.

The project is expected to deliver both a direct and indirect impact on the goal of halving the time-to-market. In direct response this will be driven from the aero engine manufacturing industry group through implementation of knowledge in both ongoing production as well as in development programmes for the future. Indirectly, the impact of research publications, reports and the update of teaching materials for engineering education will provide the basis for knowledge implementation over a wide field, while also improving European industry competitiveness in general terms.