QMT Features: January 2011
Automated inspection of aerospace components removes 95% of operator intervention
Metrology technology has been successfully applied to reduce cycle times on the inspection of the Airbus A380 tooling

Spirit AeroSystems (Europe) Limited  is the largest airframe supplier to Airbus and a key supplier of major wing structures, such as leading and trailing edges, with “life of program” contracts. Its Prestwick operation delivers products across the entire Airbus range, including the new A380 aircraft. The site also produces leading edges for Boeing 777 and 767 wings.

Traditionally, the Tooling Department at Spirit AeroSystems have used Leica Laser Trackers to manually measure key points and locations on tooling to build and inspect to nominal design positions. As the production processes have advanced, so too has the hardware and software employed. Spirit AeroSystems recently invested in a Leica Absolute Tracker and T-Probe System together with Metrolog Software, all from Hexagon Metrology.  This metrology technology has been successfully applied to reduce cycle times on the inspection of the A380 tooling and, more specifically, on the A380 Final Inboard Leading Edge jig.

“Up until now, this was a very physical check, utilising many hours, involving operators climbing up and over staging, coupled with the use of ladders and high lift equipment to position the tracker reflector and other aids. Typically 8 hours jig down time was allocated to measure key datums and jig features.” explains Andy Fulton from the Tooling Dept. “Now, with the use of Metrolog software, Spirit has converted the Leica Tracker into an automated inspection solution, removing the need for operators to physically reach all key areas enabling them to work safely at ground level.”

An inspection program has been created which prompts the operator to measure only 3 positions at ground level and then, immediately, the Leica Absolute Tracker measures all key datums and features automatically. All points are measured and compared to nominal data. On completion, a full colour report is automatically generated.  “The actual measurement process now takes less than 8 minutes to measure all key features, which is a massive time saving.” says Andy Fulton.  The solution utilises the original Leica Laser Tracker but now, using the Metrolog software, the measurements can be programmed to remove 95% of operator intervention and allows the complete system to work automatically. With the use of fixed reflectors, the whole process is completed easily, very quickly and safely.

“The Tooling Department had developed the programme but required a jig and some cash to spend on the fixed targets,” continues Andy Fulton.  “This use of the tracker was theoretically possible as the laser tracker has always had this functionality but it had never been installed anywhere else in this manner.   So it was a leap of faith by Alastair McLaren, A380’s production manager, to let us loose on one of his A380 jigs at the same time as installing a modification. This provided us with the ideal time to test the system.  There were nail biting moments when the button was pressed but the system worked perfectly, with the operation being so quick that some of the less observant were still waiting to see the check.  We are now hoping to incorporate this technology into the A320 automation and A350 tooling projects.” 


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