In response to projected growth trends for the aerospace industry, Airbus is progressively implementing the industrial production systems of the future. Robotics and automation are a major enabler of this transformation. Automated technologies enhance performance by taking care of the simplest and most repetitive aspects of aircraft production, allowing workers to focus on the complex and diversified tasks best performed by humans.

The expanding role of robotics and automation in aerospace manufacturing

At Airbus, robots and automated technologies have an important role to play in supporting our industrial system and production ramp-up, as well as the launch of new aircraft programmes. However, positioning robotics and automation at the centre of future aircraft production requires a customised and human-centric approach. Airbus is thus taking a leading role in the design, development and integration of automated technologies that match its core manufacturing needs. These technologies are being developed for five key areas of the production process where they can best improve efficiency: assembly, paint, quality control, logistics and composites. 

The goal of Airbus’ robotics and automation strategy is to identify which parts of the manufacturing process are the most repetitive, so that shop floor operators can be assigned instead to perform the more complicated, added-value tasks that cannot be performed by robots. Robots also create new job opportunities for operators, who can trade their current role for one managing the robots. 

Developing robotics expertise in-house with Airbus Robotics

As robots and automated technologies will be the major enabler of next-generation industrial manufacturing at Airbus, investment in both robotics and automation is key to protecting our competitive advantage in the coming decades. It will help answer the needs of the aeronautics industry and serve as an enabler for the transformation of the industrial system.

The growth of robotics and automation expertise at Airbus is being accelerated in two ways: by making strategic acquisitions and by encouraging the internal development and integration of robotics and automated systems. In this way, Airbus is developing an end-to-end robotics network that spans the entire robot lifecycle, from research and development to production, integration and maintenance. 

Two robots of the future are already here. Custom designed specifically for aerospace manufacturing, they are mobile and nimble, capable of moving around an aircraft and using artificial intelligence to act with purpose instead of simply performing rote tasks.

Flextrack Robot - Airbus Final Assembly Line

Flextrack robotic systems

The Flextrack is a drilling robot primarily used on A320 Family fuselage pre-assembly lines. Flextrack robotic systems consist of either flexible or stiff rails that can be easily disassembled and reassembled around an aircraft, allowing lightweight and modular drilling robots to independently move alongside the fuselage. The Flextrack is produced by Airbus Robotics, formerly known as MTM Robotics, which was acquired by Airbus in December 2019. Eventually, all existing and new single-aisle pre-assembly lines will be equipped with Flextracks, and their use on final assembly lines will be progressively increased.

For six years, the Toulouse-based robotics company Sobotech assured the installation, maintenance and servicing of the Flextrack robotic systems. Spurred by the acceleration in Flextrack deployment throughout different aircraft programmes, Airbus acquired Sobotech in October 2023, bringing their expertise in-house and integrating it into Airbus Robotics. This acquisition complimented the design and development specialties of Airbus Robotics and further reduced reliance on external suppliers for key production systems. 

With these two important acquisitions, Airbus has assured the presence of internal expertise at every stage of the robot value chain, from design and development to integration and maintenance.

The Medium-Sized Drilling Robot

The Medium-Sized Drilling Robot (MSDR) is Airbus’ first robot developed completely in-house. The MSDR was designed to be three times smaller than the industry standard in order to permit its integration into existing pre-assembly lines. The robot covers 87% of all pre-assembly-line drilling needs and is intended for use on fuselages, horizontal and vertical tail planes, and centre wing boxes. 

Conceived to accelerate A320 Family production, the MSDR is smaller, more accurate and more agile than non-customised robots available on the market. The internal development of this technology increases the autonomy of the manufacturing process. 

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