Robotic solution for complex aerospace parts

02 May 2023

A £1.7m project is being delivered by Q5D Technologies in collaboration with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) to accelerate the automation within the aerospace industry by using a novel robotic solution to add embedded wiring into complex aircraft components.

Article featured in the latest issue of the AMRC Journal.

Project LiveWire, led by Bristol-based Q5D, aims to automate the manufacture of airline seating components and control systems by embedding wiring into the structures which make up these parts, helping reduce costs and build lighter, higher-quality components. 

Wiring in aircraft, cars and many consumer electrical goods is currently done by hand, making it an expensive and laborious process that is prone to errors and can cause failures and sometimes even fires. As part of this project, Q5D has created a 5-axis robotic tool that can add wiring to a complex shaped component in a new, improved way. 

The AMRC, part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, was tasked with devising a proof-of-concept solution to calculate the position and rotation of a workpiece to enable the robot to fully automate the process of embedding wiring into them for use in the aerospace sector, as well as creating integrated validation processes for quality inspection. 

Edwin Anarcaya Roca, research engineer at the AMRC, said: “Q5D tasked the AMRC with making sure the position and rotation angle of the workpiece produced the best possible accuracy, while maintaining high repeatability and a fast computational process. 

"To obtain this, AMRC engineers performed a number of trials to identify the right hardware and software that would be best suited and supported the company in implementing a proof-of-concept solution using a stereo vision camera.”

The benefits of automating the robot path using a vision system will provide Q5D’s robotic technology with greater flexibility to adapt to dynamic environments. Making automatic adjustments to the robotic path on the fly will increase productivity as it will decrease the manual programming needed to re-adjust the robot tool path. 

Roca added: “The AMRC also implemented proof-of-concept computer vision solutions to automate the wiring inspection. These solutions include algorithms that detect defects such as wire breakages, crushed wires, stripped wire insulation, wires escaping from the track and incomplete track walls.

“The techniques used in these defect detection algorithms could lead to the development of a real-time, embedded wiring defect detection system integrated with the machine itself. Even though this project was looking at a pathway for use in the aerospace sector, this concept can be transferable to any robotics automation system.”

Chris Scraggs, theme lead for automation at the AMRC, said: “Working with Q5D Technology, the Livewire project has been a great opportunity to develop innovative computer vision solutions for a really novel system. We’re looking forward to seeing where the technology develops, and we’re excited to take delivery of a Q5D machine for further testing.”

Peter Todd, operations manager at Q5D, said: “Q5D are developing 5-axis robotic manufacturing cells to add wires, components and printed conductive tracks to complex parts from aerospace to consumer goods. Given AMRC’s reputation in robotics and automation they were the obvious partner for this project. 

“Our goal is to automate the largely manual processes currently employed to make wiring harnesses with a CAD/CAM approach that will also create new product design opportunities, reduce weight, and use less space. ”

The project, funded by Innovate UK as part of the ATI program,  is a collaboration between Q5D, the University of Sheffield AMRC, as well as other companies, including OnePLM, M-Solv and Safran.

Read the full case study here.

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