KUKA Systems Aerospace is providing Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. with assembly fixtures – wing boxes and other tooling – as well as state of the art mobile robot platforms to help assemble wings and other parts for the company's newest and fastest corporate jets.
Gulfstream has ordered tooling from KUKA's aerospace group for the new G500 and G600, scheduled for first customer deliveries in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Deliveries by KUKA of the G500 wing assembly fixtures have been completed, and work continues on the G600 wing fixture box and other tooling. The work reflects multiple purchase orders.
"We see a huge potential in the growing aerospace industry for intelligent automation solutions", says Dr. Till Reuter, CEO KUKA AG, "Gulfstream is another important reference customer for KUKA along with other giants of the aerospace sector."
The wing assembly fixture is a long, vertical structure – larger than the wing itself – in which the wing is assembled. Inside that structure, the ribs and spars of the wing are installed between the top and bottom skins to provide needed structural integrity. KUKA also built vertical hoist tools to lift the wing, turn it from vertical to horizontal, and take it to the next assembly station. Other tooling in the Gulfstream orders includes fixtures used for building up sections of the aircraft, such as, ailerons, engine mount bulkheads, flaps, and leading and trailing edge panels.
Aircraft tooling is built using large components that are fabricated and machined to very tight tolerances to locate and hold the airframe components for assembly. It's always custom-built to the customer's engineering specifications for each aircraft type. Multiple processes are used in fabrication, depending on the type of tool and the function it performs. Most have a fabricated structure and machined locators. Typically, the main structure is made of steel, usually tubing, while part-touching details or critical locators are made from aluminum. Some tools may be made entirely of aluminum so the coefficient of thermal expansion matches that of the aluminum aircraft parts they are assembling.
"Every large order KUKA has done for an aerospace customer has included substantial tooling, and our ability to build excellent aerospace assembly fixtures now is well accepted in the industry," says Larry Drake, CEO KUKA Systems North America.
The two mobile robot platforms are KUKA innovations, and the first built by any manufacturer in the United States. Their mission is precision drilling and fastening, with excellent repeatability, to increase the productivity and quality of the assembly process. Each mobile robot platform includes a KUKA robot and KUKA multi-function end effector. For Gulfstream, the mobile robot platforms are drilling primarily on the wing and horizontal stabilizer structures, including sections containing titanium that are very difficult to drill manually.
KUKA Systems, part of Germany-based KUKA AG, is an international supplier of engineering services and flexible automation systems for the Automotive, Aerospace, Energy, and Industrial Solutions segments. Some 5,800 employees worldwide work on ideas, concepts and solutions for automated production and the provision of products and services for virtually all tasks in the industrial processing of metallic and non-metallic materials. The range is marketed internationally via subsidiaries and sales offices in Europe, America and Asia. KUKA Systems had sales revenues of 1.28 billion euros for the 2014 business year. KUKA Systems North America LLC, based in Sterling Heights MI, is responsible for the North American business and the worldwide aerospace group. The KUKA Systems Aerospace Group focuses on all aspects of tooling and assembly processes for aircraft manufacturing.