As Lockheed Martin Aeronautics ramps up production of its fifth-generation F-35 fighter program, it is also looking to improve manufacturing efficiency. To address that goal, the company recently deployed Ubisense SmartSpace at its Fort Worth, TX, facility. SmartSpace is an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solution for quantifying and measuring real-world processes involving moving assets.
SmartSpace provides a foundation platform for manufacturers’ Industry 4.0 strategy. The platform creates a real-time digital twin of the production environment, and connects activities in the real world to manufacturing execution and planning systems. It monitors spatial interactions in three dimensions in real time and uses the spatial events to control processes and make the environment react to worker movements.
Ubisense states that its SmartSpace platform provides complete visibility of the manufacturing process by integrating location technologies into a single operational view of production. For clients like Airbus, Ubisense provides an “indoor radar,” that connects with enterprise software from German software company SAP to ensure timely arrival of components for assembly and up-to-date information management. The platform is capable of processing precision UWB, GPS, RFID, Bluetooth, and vision systems.
Each F-35 aircraft currently takes approximately 22 months to produce. Lockheed is looking to shorten that to 17 months as global demand increases.
The company claims that the platform solves a number of challenges faced by manufacturers with long cycle times and high complexity such as those in aerospace, defense, and commercial vehicles. These customers sites are often vast, making it easy to lose sight of tools and assets. And, if these critical items are not in the right place at the right time, it can cause lengthy and very expensive production delays.
When Lot 1 F-35 production (which consisted of two aircraft) began, the cost of each unit was upwards of $244 million. The current 90-aircraft lot is estimated at $94.6 million per unit. Criticized for cost overruns since the F-35’s inception, Lockheed is attempting to cut production costs down to $85 million or lower by the end of the decade to close the gap between cheaper fourth-generation fighters.
By understanding the precise location of tagged assets in real-time, as well as where they need to be at specific points in the future, SmartSpace enables the proactive staging and scheduling of assets to help meet critical milestones. The platform doesn’t just tell the user where assets are, but provides a high level of control to ensure that uncontrolled or incorrect tools are not used in specified workspaces.
The platform also offers electronic audits of assets and tools, detailing the whereabouts of all customer-furnished equipment, enabling manufacturers to respond to spot checks quickly and efficiently and avoiding fines for failure to do so. Problems in the manufacturing and delivery of component parts can mean delays in final assembly and missed delivery dates, which can lead to hefty fines. By tracking the progress of parts across sub-assembly lines, at multiple plants, the platform enables manufacturers to proactively plan final assembly based on delivery delays.