Sharing ideas for more efficient airplane manufacture and assembly

  • 30-Jun-2008 07:33 EDT
777 Freighter wing spar.jpg

AEROFAST technical program chairman David Dotson was part of the implementation team for the automated spar assembly tool (shown) for the Boeing 777 Freighter and ended up serving as the original controller system administrator for the tool. The one-of-a-kind tool is supplied by Giddings & Lewis.

Putting an airplane together is a complex job, no doubt about it, which explains why engineers are always trying to come up with new tools and approaches to subtract complexity—and cost—from the equation. It’s not unheard of that ideas for new tools and approaches come out of a single person’s head, but it’s when several heads get together that ideas really begin to take shape.

That is the idea behind SAE International’s Aerospace Manufacturing and Automated Fastening conference and exhibition slated for September 16-18 in Charleston, SC. Round up a bunch of manufacturing engineers in an appropriate venue, provide them with some organized learning and sharing opportunities, then turn them loose.

“Attendees will hear presentations of papers regarding innovative fastening, fixturing, robotics, and automation accomplishments in all levels of the aerospace industry and be able to speak with the people who have made those accomplishments happen,” said David Dotson, the Operations Engineer in New Product Development at Boeing Co. who is serving as Chairman of the AEROFAST portion of the SAE conference. “In addition, leading suppliers of hole-preparation, fastening, tooling, and metrology components and equipment will have exhibits that display the latest solutions for manufacturing requirements. The conference is also a great opportunity for networking in the aerospace fastening and manufacturing community.”

AEROFAST is SAE’s acronym for its long-running Aerospace Automated Fastening Conference. This year it is being merged with another SAE event, the Aerospace Manufacturing Technology Conference. More than 80 presentations are planned, with topics ranging from advanced composites fabrication and joining technologies to analysis and modeling tools.

Boeing will have a large presence in the technical program. Dotson noted that Boeing Commercial Airplanes is exploring the use of more “right-sized” equipment that is “tailored to a particular statement of work, as opposed to traditional automated fastening equipment that essentially becomes a control station by itself. The idea is to have more than one fastener being installed at the same time.”

The use of right-sized equipment and other innovations, such as multiple-spindle machines, are helping the industry realize greater efficiencies, according to Dotson.

Electroimpact is among the companies producing advanced automated fastening equipment for Boeing (as well as other aircraft makers), and it will be exhibiting at the SAE show. In accordance with his company’s policy, Dotson declined to comment on Electroimpact’s role, but he did say Boeing “is not in the business of producing equipment.” Typically, Boeing research and development groups design and prototype a wide variety of equipment, including fastening equipment. “Designs are often awarded, via contract, to suppliers who provide production equipment. Often, the equipment design needs further development by the supplier, but sometimes the supplier only needs to package, factory-harden, and replicate.”

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