Pratt & Whitney Canada is one example of the latter. It selected an AV&R inspection system for its Mirabel factory north of Montreal, where it is assembling the PW1500G series for the Bombardier CSeries regional aircraft. Before shipment, the engines undergo an AV&R robotic fashion shoot. The robot's camera zooms around every angle of the engine's exterior, firing off about 300 strobe shots in a matter of seconds. Each image is measured against a control profile to ensure that all parts are properly in place. The reason: 80% of all quality problems arise from errors in exterior workmanship. “The goal is not to see what the human eye cannot,” he says. “We're there to see better than humans can. Humans are not objective; machines are there to compensate for those [human] problems.”
The key to understanding AV&R is in who it hires and the company's youth culture, which regards the unsolvable in robotics and automation as a challenge. “Young people have less experience, so they fear less and are more open-minded,” he says. “They eat technology when they wake up, when they have lunch and when they go to sleep.”
Another aspect is to stay small. In the world of automation, AV&R is a “drop in the sea,” Beauregard says. “So the only way [it] can become different [from competitors] is yearly investments of 10-15% of revenues in innovation. We need to put a solution into mode today that nobody [thought] we could solve.”
The company works from an evolving three-year, technology road map for meeting customer expectations. The plan is subject to adjustment on a quarterly basis and a more thorough review as the fiscal year draws to a close. “The road map shows the vision of where we are going and where our customers are going. We cross-check to put them together,” he says.
Big change is not a goal, so setting aside the plan to satisfy a large order leads to short-term vision that is counterproductive. “Our visibility is for three years and each year we add another year,” Beauregard says.
He acknowledges that measuring how innovation helps a client is difficult. But it is part of the plan. Robotics makes manufacturing, inspection and repair more efficient and increases quality levels by driving variables out. So the common innovation measure of success is return-on-investment figures.
But AV&R takes into account feedback from customers and employees. It uses a matrix to measure customer perception/satisfaction against the company's innovation. “Then we measure that against employees' workloads,” Beauregard says.
The future for robotics in aerospace is brightened by the likelihood that manufacturers will pull back work sent to low-cost countries in favor of machines that do not have language/cultural barriers, do have consistent quality standards and do not suffer from repetitive motion injuries.
The company attracts many of its permanent employees with internships for engineering students from Montreal's ETS University. AV&R gravitates to technicians who become engineers. “They're practical,” Beauregard says. “You want to have people who are flexible and hands-on.”