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Robots are becoming a crucial part of aircraft production

Before the use of robots, technicians at Spirit AeroSystems, wearing welders’ jackets and hoods, sprayed hot flames on certain airplane parts to increase their durability.

The intense heat allowed a technician, who hoisted a hose over his shoulder as he sprayed, to stay in the spray booth only 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

“This is a lot easier,” said Bob Martin, a flame-sprayer at Spirit who now controls the heat with the flip of a switch.

The automation also increases the accuracy of the flame and improves quality. And it’s safer, Spirit officials say.

As in virtually all kinds of manufacturing, the use of robots at Spirit AeroSystems is growing.

When Spirit formed seven years ago after Boeing spun off its Wichita commercial aviation division, the company had six robots in place.

Now, Spirit has nearly five times that number.

They’re in place in Spirit factories in Wichita; Tulsa; Kinston, N.C.; and Prestwick, Scotland.

Two-thirds are in Wichita. And most are used for drilling.

Others are used in nondestructive testing, fastening and painting.

“Robots are doing more and more diverse things,” said Curtis Richardson, associate technical fellow for automation at Spirit and president of the Great Plains Robotics Alliance.

At Spirit, they’re used on the Boeing 787, Airbus A350 and Sikorsky CH53K programs and in use building Boeing 737 and 777 nacelles.

Robots have long been used in the automotive industry, where auto production volumes are high, and the processes are repetitive.

They’re also used in such industries as health care, military, electronics, packaging, space and mining.

Robots are becoming a small but crucial part of aircraft production, which also uses labor-intensive manual processes.

The key is striking the right balance between automation and mechanical processes – and knowing how to achieve the optimum benefit, Richardson said.

“Robots have been doing more and more in our industry,” Richardson said. “Spirit is on the leading edge on their implementation.”

When considering whether and where to use them, Spirit looks for applications that involve improving safety, ergonomics or the general working environment, he said.

It also considers the ability to lower costs and win new business.

The use of robots has been a key factor in Spirit’s competitiveness, Richardson said.

“Automation is a big enabler,” he said. “We’ve won business largely because of the automation that’s involved in our bid package.”

There are cost advantages.

“We’ve been told by customers had we not be automated … we would not have gotten the work,” he said.

New programs have meant new jobs at Spirit.

“No one at Spirit has ever lost their job because we put automation in,” he said.

More innovation

Inside Spirit’s 787 hangar, a robot works behind an enclosed cage drilling thick precision holes in a cab structure made from aluminum and titanium.

The structure will support the composite materials that form the 787 nose section.

Drilling titanium – a dense, hard metal – is a difficult process for a human, Richardson said.

It’s labor intensive and puts stress on shoulders and arms.

“Drilling titanium is hard on people,” he said.

A robot can take the extreme pressure needed to drill titanium and save workers from injury.

Cessna Aircraft is exploring the use of automation, including the use of robots.

“We continue to explore opportunities to innovate our processes, including the use of automation in certain areas,” said Cessna spokeswoman Sara Monger. “We will make strategic investments in these products where it makes sense to do so for use as a company.”

The National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University is looking at ways robots can aid aircraft manufacturers.

In the automobile industry, where volumes are high, robots may repeat a task 250,000 times, said NIAR executive director John Tomblin.

In the aviation industry, “you really have to question yourself, is a robot needed in that type of production based purely on quantity,” Tomblin said.

NIAR is looking at ways robotic applications can be used in low-volume aircraft production to solve manufacturing problems.

“In low-volume production, I think you have to look at what will be the real benefit of having a robot inserted in the production line,” Tomblin said.

NIAR has a robot on order to work on the painting of composite and metal airplanes and parts.

“Painting, especially with a composite aircraft, is very sensitive,” Tomblin said.

If the paint is too thick, the fuselage won’t conduct electricity in the event of a lightning strike, he said.

If it’s too thin, the plane’s exterior won’t be protected from ultraviolet rays.

Too much paint on an aluminum plane is also a problem, because of the extra weight, Tomblin said.

The paint thickness must be exact, he said. Robots reduce the potential for human error.

“It will paint the aircraft the same way every time,” he said.

NIAR is also using robots in friction stir welding and in reverse-engineering applications.

Robots fill a gap, said Spirit’s Richardson.

They aren’t as flexible as humans, but they’re more flexible than large machines.

They also cost less and don’t require large foundations to support them, as does the massive Brotje automated fastening and drilling machines in use in some areas of the plant.

And most can be repurposed to do other jobs.

They also can be delivered faster than the large machines.

A new Brotje machine takes about 24 months from order to delivery, for example. A robot can be delivered in eight to 12 months, Richardson said.

That was an important feature, especially with Spirit’s new business and tight program schedules, he said.

Still, he said, robots won’t replace the need for Brotje machines.

“It’s just the right tool for the right job,” Richardson said.

Cost analysis

The robot itself is a major component of a robot system and can come from a number of manufacturers. The tools on the end of the system, such as drills or paint sprayers, and the software are then customized.

The robot costs between $50,000 and $100,000. But with the software system and tooling, the final cost is anywhere from three to 10 times that amount, Richardson said.

“It’s a serious piece of equipment,” he said, and all the costs are weighed in deciding to incorporate a robot into the system.

Spirit and the aviation industry have a lot of room to grow in automating their work.

The majority of the processes are still performed manually, Richardson said. Putting a robot in place is easier with a new project than on programs already in place.

The industry is also moving to advance safety, so workers on the factory floor could work in close proximity with robots. Today, robots used in manufacturing are usually behind a gate or in a room separate from employees.

Rather than replace workers, Richardson said, robots complement a skilled work force.

Building an aircraft is a complex operation that still requires a manual touch.

And robots require specialized expertise. Robots require employees with skills to program, operate and maintain them.

Robots are productivity tools – very much like calculators, computers or automated farm equipment – Richardson said.

“To attempt to compete in the marketplace without those tools as an integral part of your business model would be nearly impossible,” Richardson said. “Robots and automation tools are having a very similar effect on manufacturing industries, even aerospace.”

Source: http://www.kansas.com/2012/07/18/2412801/robots-are-becoming-a-crucial.html

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Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.

The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. 

The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.

A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.

The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.


Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society


The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.


Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning  bodily life. Such technologies will  greatly enlarge  the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make  all  kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.


Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness  with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness  onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of  cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence,  expand human capabilities  and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times.  The final result  at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.


This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive!  Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots  will become affordable  and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however:  humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover,  prerequisites for a large-scale  expansion into outer space will be created as well.


Key elements of the project in the future

• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of  the project of "Immortality”.

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