Airbus Uses IoT to Fuel “Factory of the Future”

Airbus A380

An icon of the factory of the past, Rosie the Riveter is a good way to understand the Airbus Factory of the Future, according to one top company executive.

The multibillion-dollar European aircraft maker, which controls half the worldwide commercial airplane market, is applying Internet of Things technology not only to its products, but to the tools its workers use in the manufacturing process to do such things as drive thousands upon thousands of bolts.

Unlike auto plants, airplane assembly lines have not historically widely used robots in their precision manufacturing. Instead, humans are in charge, assisted by robotic tools.

By connecting both the people and those tools to an IoT platform, said Jean-Bernard Hentz, Head of PLM R&T & Innovation at Airbus ICT, manufacturing speeds up.

“We need simple solutions,” Hentz told an audience at LiveWorx.

This has led to what Hentz called Rosie the Riveter 2.0: an Airbus worker on the factory floor who can use a tablet or smart glasses to scan an airplane’s metal skin and determine what size bolt is needed in a given hole, and the torque required to install it. That information can be spontaneously sent to a robotic tool, which completes the task.

This so-called “cyber-physical” approach—which Airbus calls its “Factory of the Future”—helps streamline tens of thousands of steps in the assembly of an airplane, which can have as many as 400,000 bolts and screws alone and uses more than 1,100 different tools.

“Airplanes are very complicated,” Hentz said wryly.

With those tools connected, the process isn’t only quicker; it’s more reliable than if the bolts were being tightened manually.

Airbus has 11 production sites and four assembly lines worldwide, with another under construction in Mobile, Alabama.

It’s been a big user of computer-aided design and, with a nine-year backlog of orders, is pushing “lean manufacturing” to reduce inventory without interrupting production.

“If I can get [the airplane] one day earlier to the customer, I would be very happy. I would receive my check one day earlier and the airline would be able to put the airplane into service one day earlier,” Hentz said.

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Image courtesy of Airbus

 

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