However, Gralfs emphasizes, further development of the robotic system infrastructure is required to make the concept truly beneficial. The crawler runs out of fasteners, for example. “So we have to figure out how to link the machine to the storage area for fasteners. Technically we can do it today, but it is still not a good business case.”
Automated-laser-beam welding of stringers on A380 lower-shell skin panels has also brought about an up-to 90% process time reduction over the conventional riveted method, while at the same time reducing weight and increasing corrosion resistance. Friction stir welding, already used in several space applications, is being considered for possible application on the A320NEO. It could be used for skin panel joints, integral wing manufacturing and center wing box work, with a possible weight saving of around 75% compared with traditional riveted splices.
Airbus is also applying the first parts to the A350 made by an additive manufacturing process. The 3-D structure printer, or automatic layer printer, builds up an object by depositing material layer by layer, until the part is complete. “We've been working on that for three years with good success,” says Gralfs. The first application on the A350 are plastic bracket parts. The devices are “highly flexible in cycle and in making changes.”