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Kuka has devised a flexible robotic solution for assembling complex aircraft structures for European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

This automated robotic solution is intended to perform a variety of drilling and fastening tasks on the upper and lower wing covers of a lateral wing box demonstration unit being built at Airbus’s facility in Filton.

The wing box is due to be delivered to Toulouse this summer, where it will undergo a series of structural tests.

The results will then be evaluated by Airbus to see if the new robotic technology is suitable for use in current as well as future aircraft programmes.

Kuka’s collaboration with Airbus is part of the Advanced Low Cost Aircraft Structures (Alcas) project, a EUR100m (GBP86m) European Commission-backed research scheme that is aimed at identifying new composite manufacturing and assembly strategies.

Airbus wanted to explore the development of a flexible, reconfigurable solution that could undertake a number of tasks on a single system and offer a modular design so that other processes could be added in the future, according to Gary Taylor, Kuka’s UK aerospace manager.

One of the project’s main objectives was to improve efficiency by using a horizontal wing build philosophy instead of the conventional vertical manual method, a time-consuming and labour-intensive process.

An effective assembly system has been devised that incorporates a number of new technologies, such as Kuka’s 18-tonne-payload Omnimove, a mobile positioning system that provides an alternative to using a crane for manoeuvring the carbon-fibre wing covers into the jig.

The Omnimove is also used to position a pair of platform-mounted Kuka robots for drilling holes in the lower wing cover.

The assembly system also includes an identical pair of robots installed on a high-level gantry for the upper wing cover operation.

Two of the robots are equipped with an adaptive guidance device for monitoring the accuracy of the drill head position, while the others feature a multi-function end effector designed to drill holes ranging in diameter from 6mm to 22mm and a material thickness of up to 110mm.

The design of the robot end effector only offers a choice of spindle systems for axial and orbital drilling capabilities, as well as other integrated features such as a fastener insertion facility and a non-contact optical measurement probe.

Work undertaken for the Alcas project will also play a role in the development of technologies under the Next Generation Composite Wing (NGCW) programme, a research project headed by Airbus and involving 16 other companies including Kuka.

Kuka will demonstrate its latest robotic solutions for the aerospace industry on Stand B10 in Hall 4 at the Farnborough International Air Show on 19-25 July.

KUKA can trace a presence in the UK back to 1976, and the founding of the business KUKA Welding Systems + Robots Limited. The business in its current form, KUKA Robotics UK Limited, is wholly-owned a subsidiary of KUKA Roboter GmbH, Europe's largest manufacturer of industrial robots; and sitting within the KUKA Group of companies – encompassing robotics and automation solutions – to an annual turnover value of 1.9 Billion Euro. In 2013,, KUKA Roboter made some 20,000 industrial robots for all applications.

Within the UK, we are a stable, profitable business that fosters and encourages an active self-improvement plan for all employees ensuring we retain experienced members of staff which improves our customer interaction markedly.

The on-going training of Robot Sales Specialists, Application Engineering staff and Customer Service team is rigorous to ensure a robust understanding of our entire range. This ensures that the correct robot is specified initially, that it is appropriate to application and environment, and that post-delivery, we can support every device 24-hours-a-day.

The company moved to its current Wednesbury home late in 2011, from where sales, support and customer service operations are centred. The training facility – containing 8 training cells – was installed in the summer of 2013; and demonstration facilities including robots of all sizes, employing an external linear axis, and a moulding machine demonstration cell is a coherent experience for any visitor.

Our showroom also allows an opportunity to see some devices, such as those ideal for platen-mounted injection moulding machine use, to be the subject of a close first-hand interaction; which also includes an example of KUKA's revolutionary and world-leading LightWeight Robot (LBR).

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