The Aero-Structure Assembly and Systems Installation Research Group is a centre of excellence for research into the assembly of aero-structures, developing breakthrough technologies in partnership with industry. The Group’s expertise spans manufacturing engineering, robotics and automation, and human factors. A core expertise of the group is the application of automation to the assembly of large structures and the development of human and robot collaborative applications. The Group is also part of the EPSRC Centre in Intelligent Automation, a collaboration between Loughborough and Cranfield Universities. The Centre is jointly funded by industry and is developing advanced automation strategies and techniques. The focus at Cranfield is on human collaborative automation and skill capture to develop much closer synergies between manual and automated manufacturing systems.

Supporting your business

We are industry facing and have experience of developing near shop floor solutions - the majority of our work is typically Technology Readiness Levels 1-6. Engagements range from short-term feasibility studies to long-term secondments of staff into industry. Recent examples include a knowledge transfer partnership on automated sealant application and the development of new aircraft assembly technologies in collaboration with Airbus.

Our facilities and resources

Aero-structure assembly and automation

In most aerospace assembly operations we do not know exactly where the part is, we do not know exactly what shape the part is and when we have performed an operation we have changed the part’s shape. To automate a process, we need a system that is capable of compensating for this in real-time. This requires a close coupling of metrology, manipulation systems, processes and CAD data. Current research projects within the group are focusing on the development of flexible distributed control architectures that can support both assembly and equipping processes.

Current projects include:

  • The development of distributed control architectures for multi robot assembly systems;

  • The development of flexible cell architectures for aero-engine manufacture;

  • Metrology assisted assembly.

Systems installation

The installation of systems such as electrics, hydraulics, bleed air and fuel is costly and time consuming being an almost entirely manual process. Conventional automation is difficult to apply and is not cost effective due to factors such as accessibility, process frequency and part variability. To increase the level of automation will require breakthrough technologies such as new robot architectures, human/robot collaboration and improved manual processes.

Current projects include:

  • Installation of movables using human/robot co-operation;

  • Flexible robotic drilling during wing assembly;

  • Wing equipping process benchmarking;

  • Automation technology selection and validation for equipping.

Case studies

We work with the leading aerospace companies including BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce and we have a strategic relationship with Airbus Operations.