Airbus is developing a new, fully-automated drilling technology to significantly enhance the drilling of rivet holes in aircraft structural components.
The creation of rivet holes is a key step in the production and assembly of airplanes, typically performed manually or semi-automatically using drilling machines or drill feed units. Chips that occur during this process are extracted, but due to their length, they often become stuck in the drill bit flutes – causing an accumulation of debris. This results in high rates of wear and tear on tools, along with material damage and inconsistent hole diameters.
"To prevent these problems and optimise the automated manufacturing process, we’ve introduced an electrical vibration spindle in an industrial robot for the first time," said project manager Dr. Sascha Fangmann.
Using this new technology, holes are drilled automatically, with a superposed oscillation pattern moving the drill bit in and out of the material several times per tool rotation. The vibration causes the chip to fracture into short pieces, which can then be extracted without residue.
The fully-automated electrical vibration drilling offers many advantages over conventional methods, including an up to 50-per cent reduction in processing time for thick material packages with titanium. Tooling wear and tear, concessions and burr formation around the holes are significantly reduced due to the lower temperatures generated using this new method, while magnetic bearings eliminate the need for drill spindle maintenance.
The new technology’s first demonstrator will be installed at Airbus’ Bremen, Germany facility in 2017. By year-end, a fully-automated articulated robot system with a magnetically-levitated drill spindle should be producing rivet holes in wing flaps at the Bremen site for A330s and A350 XWBs.