BAE Systems has unveiled a new intelligent, smart factory set to increase productivity and revolutionise combat aircraft production in the UK.
The company has described the facility as a “first-of-its-kind industry 4.0 factory.” The digital technologies within it will be used to advance manufacturing on the UK’s next generation combat aircraft system, Tempest.
The factory, at BAE Systems’ site in Warton, Lancashire, is the result of a multi-million pound investment and collaboration with more than 40 blue chip and SME companies along with academic institutions. BAE Systems has used UK innovation to develop a digitally connected, intelligent factory for future military aircraft production.
Automated robots, virtual and augmented reality
The factory will bring together advanced manufacturing technologies to transform engineering processes. Automated robots, virtual and augmented reality will increase speed, precision and efficiencies, as well as reduce the costs associated with the manufacture of complex military aircraft structures.
The facility will also demonstrate a new approach to the way humans and machines can operate together. Cobotic and flexible robotic technologies remove the need for heavy, fixed, long-lead tooling and can quickly switch from the manufacture of one item or platform to another. Intelligent machines and off-the-shelf robotic technology from the automotive industry have been modified to operate at the precise tolerances required for military aircraft, which are less than a third the width of a human hair on some of the programmes.
The new technologies will drive greater productivity by allowing operators to focus on more highly-skilled and strategic tasks and production managers to oversee operations from a fully digitised, virtual office. The new facility underpins efforts of the UK-led Tempest programme to meet the UK’s ambition to remain at the forefront of the Combat Air sector by delivering more cost-effectively and in half the time of previous programmes.
“Facility combines current and emerging technologies”
Dave Holmes, Manufacturing Director for BAE Systems Air, said: “We’ve collaborated with the best of UK industry and academia to develop a cutting-edge facility that combines current and emerging technologies, ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of combat air technology development.”
“Driving our manufacturing capabilities forward as we prepare for the fourth Industrial Revolution, will sustain and develop critical skillsets and ensure we can continue to deliver military capability to address future threats, whilst improving productivity and delivering value for money for our customers.”
Technologies within the factory are already delivering benefits. The intelligent workstation, developed in collaboration with The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Fairfield Control Systems, is in use on the Typhoon production line. It uses a system which recognises operators and automatically delivers tailored instructions using ‘pick by light’ technologies. In addition, additive manufacturing technologies are being used in the production of Typhoon aircraft parts and assemblies.