What are aerospace robots? Easy guide with examples [2024]

March 26, 2024
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What is an aerospace robot?

Simply put, an aerospace robot is a robot designed to operate in an aerospace manufacturing environment. 

These robots are highly specialized to handle delicate components and materials used in building aircraft and spacecraft. 

Aerospace robots are typically articulated arms with multiple joints that have a high degree of skill and precision.

What are aerospace robots used for? 

Aerospace robots are already being used for a tremendous variety of applications in aircraft and spacecraft manufacturing. 

If it’s repetitive, dangerous, or requires precision, chances are a robot is on the job already. 

Let’s take a look at what robots are pulling off: 

  • Welding done right: In aerospace, where welding needs to be very precise, robots are 10/10 at bringing the accuracy needed for materials like titanium and nickel alloy.

    Because skilled welders are sadly in short supply, these robots play a big role in keeping things safe and consistent.
  • Coloring within the lines: Robots take over the task of painting planes and other aerospace vehicles, doing the job quicker and with more precision than manual methods. They can handle different kinds of paint at once and cut down on exposure to harmful fumes.
  • Keeping it all sealed nice and tight: What used to be a manual job of putting sealants on aircraft, is now something robots are great at. They do this very accurately, saving time and making sure the job is done right — while increasing safety standards for workers. 
  • Drilling and riveting made easy: Robots have changed how assembly lines work by making drilling and riveting tasks faster and way more accurate. This is very important for the aerospace industry, helping save time and guarantee the structural integrity of aircraft.
  • Inspection improvements: Using robots for ultrasonic, non-destructive testing boosts the quality assurance process. They can inspect more thoroughly than humans and work non-stop, making inspections possible even during off-hours and massively increasing productivity.
  • Multipurpose maintenance: Robots can easily switch between tasks like sanding, washing, drying, and polishing. This flexibility is extremely important for aerospace manufacturing, making it possible to automate various tasks very cost-effectively.
  • Efficient aircraft washing: Robotic systems have cut down the time and effort needed to thoroughly wash aircrafts, an all-important step in maintenance. This results in significant time savings and makes a quick wash possible.
  • Smarter component transportation: Advanced Guided Vehicles (AGVs) used for moving large parts around factories make operations far more efficient and safe. As a bonus, these robots move smoothly around people, improving logistics.
  • CNC machine tending: Robots improve the manufacturing process by managing CNC machines, from removing workpieces to quality checks. They guarantee precision and quality, automating production from start to finish.
  • Non-stop material handling: Robots are transforming the way materials are handled in aerospace factories. They're able to lift and move heavy components from one part of the production floor to another with ease, improving efficiency and reducing the risk of injuries associated with the repetitive strain of manual labor. 
  • Super-accurate cutting and shaping: Advanced robots equipped with cutting tools are now able to shape and cut aerospace components with unbelievable precision. Whether it's trimming composite materials or cutting through metals, they make sure that each piece meets the exact specifications required for aerospace applications.
  • The glue that holds everything together: In addition to sealing, robots are now extremely good at applying adhesives used in the assembly of aerospace components.

    They can apply a consistent layer of adhesive to get strong bonds and reduce the variability seen with manual application — a big win for the durability and safety of aerospace vehicles.

Why is the aerospace industry adopting robots?

The aerospace industry is rapidly adopting robotics for a huge variety of reasons. 

Assembly of aircraft components often necessitates heavy lifting, working in confined spaces, and handling tremendously dangerous chemicals. Robots can do all of this with zero risk of injury. 

Let’s break down these benefits a bit: 

  • Robots also generate massive productivity gains. They can work on and on, and on, all day, 7 days a week, with nearly zero breaks. Robotic assembly lines and automated inspection systems speed up production and reduce errors. Studies show that implementing robotics in aerospace manufacturing can increase productivity by up to 30%.
  • Robots produce components with a stunning degree of precision and consistency. Their robotic arms have micrometer precision and built-in quality checks. This results in aircraft parts that fit together perfectly – a tremendous boon for safety. Also, robotic inspection systems use computer vision and AI to detect even micron-level flaws or imperfections in components. This zero-defect approach massively increases overall quality. 
  • Sadly, there’s a shortage of highly skilled workers in the aerospace industry. Robots can take over boring, mundane, and plain old repetitive tasks, freeing up human workers to focus on more brain-intensive jobs. They also reduce the time required to train new employees. Companies can implement robotics to avoid production bottlenecks due to a lack of available labor.
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Examples of robotics in the aerospace industry

Aerospace manufacturing requires near-perfect precision and quality to guarantee safety, especially when producing aircraft parts. 

Here are some amazing real-world examples of how they’re managing: 

  • Boeing's innovative assembly line: For assembling its 777 aircraft, Boeing uses a cool piece of tech called Fuselage Automated Upright Build (FAUB) technology. This means robots take care of drilling, fastening, and sealing the fuselage parts, which makes things more precise and speeds up the whole process.
  • Airbus and its drilling robots: Over at Airbus, when they're putting together their A350 XWB aircraft, they let robots handle the drilling of the countless holes needed to assemble the aircraft's wings and composite fuselage. This helps make sure that every hole is perfect, reducing the need for humans to do this mundane work.
  • Northrop Grumman's high-tech fabric laying: When making parts for the F-35 Lightning II, Northrop Grumman has robots that lay composite materials just right to form parts of the aircraft's body. This not only makes the aircraft lighter but also super strong.
  • SpaceX's robots that weld: SpaceX, known for its ambitious space travels, use welding robots to put together its spacecraft, like the Starship. These robots do the welding work on the spacecraft's steel body, making sure the welds can withstand the harsh conditions of space.
  • Lockheed Martin's team-up with robots: In producing the F-35 fighter jet, Lockheed Martin uses Cobots, or collaborative robots, which work hand-in-hand with humans. They help with tasks like applying coatings and putting in fasteners, blending human flexibility with the ultimate robotic precision.
  • Spirit AeroSystems and their precise robotic milling: Spirit AeroSystems, a big supplier for the aerospace industry, uses robotic milling technology to shape and size aircraft components with eye-popping precision.

    Their robots take care of the milling of large fuselage sections and wing spars, making sure parts meet stringent aerospace standards. This massively improves the structural integrity of aircraft. 

Summing up

We’ve just scratched the surface of how robotics is transforming aerospace manufacturing. 

While the industry was slow to adopt automation (compared to, for example, the auto industry), the benefits now speak for themselves. As technology advances, expect to see even more smart robots on the factory floor. 

Aerospace companies that embrace automation will have a competitive advantage, just as with leaders in other industrial sectors. 

So, it’s not if, but when is the time right to implement aerospace robots? If you ask us, that time was yesterday. But, barring getting access to a time-traveling DeLorean, the time is now.

Next steps

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