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.