Boeing has been transforming its manufacturing plants, by automating various tasks to increase output and improve productivity. The firm uses lots of robots for building airplanes.
Recently Boeing was granted a patent for a fully automated plant.
The facility has six assembly cells, a feeder line area , and a robot holding area. Each cell is used to assemble one fuselage. The feeder line area is the area where fuselage materials are received. Idle robots are located in the robot holding area. A first cradle is moved (via an underlying automated guided vehicle (AGV)) into the feeder line area. The first cradle after it has been moved into a first one of the six assembly cells.
The assembly cell is selected based on rate and firing order. This selection controls the path and timing of all the movements by the AGVs in order to avoid collisions. Then a fore keel structure is moved into the feeder line area. The fore keel structure and subsequent components may be transferred to the feeder line area in large transportation/shipping fixtures, which may be moved by fork trucks.
The gantry is then positioned over the fore keel structure. The gantry raises the fore keel structure and moves that structure over the cradle and lays the fore keel structure onto the cradle. The gantry may have a vision system for locating the initial position of the structure on the cradle. The gantry vision system may also be used for collision avoidance. In the meantime, a mid keel structure is being moved into the feeder line area. The gantry then moves the mid keel structure and lays it over the cradle.
An aft keel structure is supplied and positioned on segment of the cradle. Then a floor grid is moved into the feeder line area. The gantry moves the floor grid and positions it onto the mid and aft keel structures. The gantry then moves fore, mid and aft side panels onto the keel structures. The gantry then moves nose, fore, mid and aft crown panels onto the side panels. A set of robots are commanded to move from the robot holding area to the first cell . The robots fasten the panels and keel structures. While the fastening operations are being performed, other fuselages may be assembled. A second cradle is moved to a second assembly cell .
Similarly multiple fuselages may be built at the same time.
When assembly of a fuselage has been completed, the completed fuselage is moved off the floor by the cradle. The completed fuselage may then be moved to a location for cleaning, sealing and painting.