Mobile Robots Help Technicians Manufacture Airplanes

A new mobile assistant is being developed to support technicians in the airplane manufacturing industry when applying sealant, measuring, and testing — without putting them at risk. In the EU project known as VALERI (Validation of Advanced, Collaborative Robotics for Industrial Applications), a European consortium is engineering a mobile robot that operates autonomously and moves independently through a production hall, side-by-side with the engineers and technicians. It is not intended to replace the technician, but instead relieve them of stressful and monotonous duties and take over inspection duties.

The new assistant for the aviation industry, based on “omniRob,” a mobile robot by KUKA. (©KUKA)

Stationary robots are not suited for the assembly of unwieldy airplane components several meters in length that are worked on over a period of up to two weeks inside one single facility. Mobile systems are flexible, can be used at various stations, can move forward at various speeds, and are capable of performing delivery services; for example, they could retrieve tools for the technicians from a warehouse.

The collaboration between people and equipment only works if collisions can be eliminated or kept to a minimum allowable level. To guarantee 100% security, the researchers outfitted the mobile platform with cameras and touch-sensitive interfaces that possess a cushioning layer. These sensors can be attached to the robot like an artificial skin. Using this technology, in combination with other optical sensors, unintended collisions are sensed and prevented.