KUKA Systems Aerospace officially opened its new R&D and production facility for advanced automation solutions in Le Haillan, France. This investment underscores KUKA’s commitment to meeting the rising global demand for sophisticated robotic processes used in aircraft assembly.
The Le Haillan facility manufactures multi-function end effectors, as does the KUKA Systems global headquarters for aerospace in the United States. “This dual manufacturing capability creates synergy in the manufacture and support of this key technology for our customers worldwide,” says Robert Reno, Group Vice President, KUKA Systems Aerospace.
KUKA acquired the French operation, formerly known as Alema Automation, a leading manufacturer of aerospace tooling solutions for stationary, track-mounted and mobile robotic platforms, in March 2014. That followed years of a distributorship agreement and close collaboration between the companies.
Construction of the facility in Le Haillan, a suburb of Bordeaux, was finished this January, on time and on budget. The building comprises 1,445 square meters of production space and 1,123 square meters for engineering and other departments.
“This exceptionally well-equipped building enlarges our footprint so we can continue expanding our business,” says Philippe Prat, Managing Director of KUKA Systems Aerospace – Le Haillan. “It makes a strong statement to current and prospective KUKA customers – the giants of aerospace worldwide and their Tier 1 suppliers – about our capability to support our KUKA-branded products and automate more assembly processes.”
End effectors are the functional units attached to the end of a robot arm that perform specific production or logistical tasks. In aerospace assembly, these tasks include drilling, riveting, fastening, lifting, positioning or applying a coating, adhesive or sealant. Some are multi-functional, meaning that tools can be changed by the robot, without manual intervention or taking the robotic cell or platform off-line. A robot can switch between drilling holes and inserting rivets or fasteners in those holes using the same multi-function end effector.
These robotic and other automated processes allow major aircraft manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers to build more units faster and with great precision and repeatability. They can take workers doing repetitive jobs like riveting that are hard on the body and re-assign them to value added work elsewhere in the assembly process.
KUKA’s European customer base includes Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Stelia Aerospace. Its US customers include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Gulfstream Aerospace and Bell Helicopter. KUKA has built a highly automated assembly line for Northrop Grumman to build center fuselages for the F-35 jet fighter. It also is building automated manufacturing systems for both the Boeing 777 and 737-MAX programs. For Gulfstream, it is supplying tooling and mobile robotic platforms to help build its newest corporate jets, while it is supplying a complete assembly line for building Bell’s new super-medium class commercial helicopter, the 525 Relentless.
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