They're not as wise as R2D2, but robots are essential in building aircraft like the Airbus A380.
- By Joe Pappalardo
- Air & Space magazine, July 2007
(Page 2 of 2)
Robots also are ubiquitous in the machine shop. They are used to make intricate airplane parts, such as frames, ribs, and parts of the landing gear. Here, Alenia Aeronautica makes parts for both Boeing and Airbus projects.
Each manufactured part in the machining area is scrutinized by a pencil-eraser-size probe at the end a crooked robotic arm. The arm descends and gently touches the ball probe to the part’s surface; at each touch, the probe registers a quiet beep. After 300 to 400 beeps, the part’s shape has been traced and compared against the specifications to ensure quality.
Other machines are dedicated to making small parts or tools. Some of the most endearing robots at Nola are the waist-high, wheeled vehicles that bring raw, uncut metals to machines and retrieve finished tools. Guided by tracks beneath the concrete (with yellow painted lines warning biped human co-workers away), these carriers work a pre-programmed shift.
Like the sheet metal plant, the tools-and-parts building always has a human being to check the quality of the work, trouble-shoot errors, or take over when the machines fail. Last fall a trio of workers was using hand drills to affix rivets to a section of an A380 fuselage section because the machine that ordinarily did the work had shut down. Deburring parts—essentially shaving the edges smooth—is always a human job.
The employees in the Nola plant are among the highest skilled, according to Italian union ratings, some having decades of experience in airplane manufacture. “There is a high level of investment in automation,” Busca says. “But the final touch of quality…can only made by professionals by working by hand.”