KUKA Systems Aerospace has received the American Helicopter Society International’s Supplier Excellence Award for its new assembly concept that will be used in building Bell Helicopter’s 525 Relentless. The award, presented at the charity’s annual awards banquet last night in Virginia Beach, VA, is given each year to a supplier “which through the quality of, innovativeness and cost-effectiveness of its products, has made a notable contribution to the vertical flight industry.”
“We accept this honor with great pride and with gratitude for the support of a tremendous partner in Bell, which recognized the value in our concept and placed its faith in us,” says Robert Reno, Group Vice President, KUKA Systems Aerospace.
KUKA’s concept for the new Bell 525 is a major departure in assembling rotary-wing aircraft. Working in collaboration with Bell’s engineering staff, the KUKA process engineering team developed a palletized process based on the industrial assembly line principle. The main aircraft is built up in a major fixture, which moves along the assembly stations. Ancillary tooling is added or removed from that fixture to allow different work tasks to be performed at each station.
The traditional assembly method would be to build up each component in a dedicated fixture and when a specific task is completed, remove that component and put it into another fixture to build it further. The result is a progressive buildup of each major section of the aircraft, but with many uncontrolled variations and tolerance issues in each one. The final mating of components and sections usually requires significant ad hoc adjustments to force out-of-contour or misaligned components into place. That’s typical throughout the aerospace industry.
Palletized assembly offers many advantages over that traditional process, most notably an improvement in overall quality. The process promotes specialization and repeatability. Results tend to be more precise with less variability. The mating of components and ultimately entire sections is simplified. Everything tends to fit the first time, requiring fewer ad hoc adjustments. The result is a smoother, faster flow, with more efficient use of manpower.
KUKA is manufacturing all tooling for the forward, mid and aft fuselage as well as all tooling for the tailboom, engines and transmission and mating of all major structures on the 525 Relentless. Bell is offering the 525 for a wide range of non-military missions requiring a super medium to light heavy class helicopter.
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