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The Benefits of Automation Technologies for Aerospace Tooling and Machining

As the aerospace industry starts using parts with more complex geometries made from high-performance composites and alloys, aerospace tooling and machining will have to advance. Aircraft are complicated machines that require parts made with tight tolerances and exact precision. Despite requirements becoming more stringent, aerospace companies must still find ways to increase production output while maintaining quality and controlling costs.

To achieve this, aerospace manufacturers are turning to automation technologies. Robotic automation is being implemented into aerospace tooling and machining processes to increase productivity, improve quality, and cut costs. Automated robots can more consistently manufacture parts that require a high degree of precision. Aerospace tooling manufacturers leveraging automation are realizing how beneficial this technology is for their operations.

Improved Precision and Accuracy

The quality of a finished part is dependent on the precision of the tooling, requiring high-caliber tooling designs. This is especially true for aerospace tooling, since the manufacturing of aircraft parts requires a high level of accuracy. Employing automation in combination with high-quality tooling creates a process that is always consistent. A robot will accurately position a part every time based on its programming, resulting in an efficient tooling process that practically eliminates waste due to mistakes.

This improved precision during tooling also results in higher quality parts. Fewer mistakes in the tooling process mean fewer defects, enhancing overall part quality. Additionally, tighter tolerances and more precise machining improve the average part quality. Automated systems can also be notified if any tools need maintenance or need to be replaced. Once notified, the system can direct an automated robot to replace the tool, helping to maintain high tooling performance.

Enhanced Safety

Some machine tools are hazardous to work with for human workers, especially if they break or are improperly handled. Automation technologies can take over the operation of hazardous machine tools, freeing up human workers to focus on safer tasks. However, the introduction of large industrial automated robots comes with its own safety issues. This has driven the wide adoption of cobots, or collaborative robots, within manufacturing facilities. Cobots have safety features built in, allowing them to work more collaboratively with human workers without the need for safety fences.

One heavily automated process in aerospace manufacturing is welding. Welding poses several safety risks to human workers, such as hot sparks and harmful fumes. Automating welding in aerospace manufacturing has reduced injuries for workers in these facilities. Additionally, automating time-consuming tasks frees up human workers to focus on more value-added work, such as designing aerospace tooling with safety in mind. This can involve ensuring the environment around aerospace tools is safe — for instance, by adding extraction hoods to contain welding fumes — or designing more ergonomic tools for human workers to use.

Cost Reduction and Optimization

Increased efficiency and improved accuracy are significant benefits, but what’s always at the forefront of manufacturers’ minds is cost. Automation technologies have an upfront cost that can be daunting; however, the resulting cost savings are considerable. Manufacturers often see a return on investment within one to three years of implementing automation.

Within aerospace tooling and machining, automation helps to cut costs by reducing material waste and downtime. Automated robots always place tools correctly with machines. Pairing this consistency with an optimized tool path ensures minimized material waste during the machining process for aerospace parts. Robots can also work continuously without breaks, reducing the downtime of production significantly. This reduced downtime improves production times and increases production output, helping to optimize production costs for manufacturers.  

To learn more about how automation can benefit aerospace tooling and machining, and meet with automation vendors, attend AeroDef.