QMT Features: July 2008
Factory of the future
UK universities and international manufacturers are collaborating to tackle advanced manufacturing challenges in large scale assembly at the CECA Factory of the Future in Sheffield. By Brendan Coyne.

Earlier this year, Perry McCarthy, the original `Stig´ from BBC´s Top Gear, officially launched the Centre of Excellence in Customised Assembly (CECA) - a leading technology centre dedicated to improving complex assembly processes for manufacturers.

CECA is a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Loughborough and Nottingham to provide cost-effective assembly solutions for aerospace, defence, pharmaceutical/medical, device and niche automotive supply chains. The initiative is backed by a number of industrial partners including Rolls-Royce, Boeing, the Ford Motor Company and Messier-Dowty.

The Centre is the only one of its kind in the UK. It was launched at the Rolls-Royce Factory of the Future in Rotheram, home to the University of Sheffield´s  £45 million Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing. Winning a BREEAM  Excellence award for its environmental design, the 4,200M2  Factory of the Future  has 98% natural lighting within the building and will feature  two 10.2 m wind turbines for its power requirements.

At the launch, Stephen Burgess, Manufacturing Process and Technology Director at Rolls-Royce Plc, said: "CECA is the type of innovative, demand-led initiative that we want to see coming out of our universities. It is planned that the Centre will provide mature technology that should have a real impact in UK factories and will offer a unique, open-door resource for industry." 

Using the latest equipment and techniques, the CECA technology centre specialises in assembly innovation for high value, low volume components across all industry sectors. Able to review client company’s current practices, it can identify areas that could be made more efficient., such as finding ways to speed up assembly processes, guarantee quality and eliminate waste. A key objective is to increase manufacturers awareness and understanding of new and novel assembly techniques and technologies and identify future directions in assembly.

Established engineers and researchers, combined with modern premises, provide a centre for assembly R&D with the most up-to-date assembly technologies. It offers the opportunity to view machinery demonstrations, actual and virtual, utilising advanced equipment, facilities and know-how.

To maximise work flow and enhance lean manufacturing, CECA offers factory simulation. Using Delmia Quest software with a state of the art 4 x 2m virtual reality system, it can simulate factory, assembly and automation for optimum solutions.
By creating a virtual 3D model of the assembly line everything can be planned, from a single component to an entire factory, including people and ergonomics as well as machinery and equipment. Simulation enables modelling of different scenarios off-line and determines whether adjustments will deliver the required results, all without disrupting production.

A key task for CECA is to help manufacturers achieve consistently accurate positioning using the latest metrology technologies. A Metris Indoor GPS (iGPS), similar to that  used in positioning the main body of Boeing 787 fuselage assembly, is sited within the Technology Centre. The Metris system is used for large scale positioning  of up to 60m. Richard James, project engineer at CECA says, “ Using an internal iGPS, we are looking how we can integrate this into a factory so that we have a factory-wide CMM, in effect. Within this large scale measurement volume, we can create higher accuracy local measurement.  Also used is an API Laser Tracker 3. For example, we are currently utilising the high accuracy API T3 laser system to track an SMR on a robot which allows us to analyse the robot’s accuracy and repeatability in real time. The single arm robot we are currently testing, which has a half metre stroke and 6 axes, is achieving 60 microns within the volume. Typical applications for this could be to calibrate multi-axis machine tools by putting the SMR in the tool holder and moving it through multiple configurations. The errors measured by the API tracker could then be fed back into the adaptive machine controller. You could thereby calibrate and improve the machine tool performance through creating an error map throughout the whole machine volume.. The advantage of using a tracker approach to robot and machine tool calibration is that it’s fast, easy to use. Moreover, the system is portable and self-contained.”
Rounding off large volume measurement capability is a Metris laser radar system which provides large scale line, single point scanning of the Jetstream fuselage. By digitising the fuselage, both internally and externally, a 3D virtual model is created which can then be used for  positioning purposes, such as the location of drilling  holes  or positioning of substructures inside the fuselage.

For small to medium scale metrology, CECA use equipment such as: a GOM ATOS 3D non-contact optical scanner; a Konica Minolta 3D non-contact laser scanner (with up to 2.5m measurement area); a  GOM TRITOP photogrammetry system (with up to 10 x 10m2 measuring area) ,a Metris LK Evolution  and a Mitutoyo Crysta high precision bridge-type CMM.. Measurement tasks here could be turbine blade scanning  or inspection of a  precision machined component.

A key objective at CECA is to help manufacturers  make the most of automation technologies, using robotics to increase productivity and consistency.
For example, vision and inspection systems, such as the Cognex DVT vision recognition system, can be used in assembly inspection to reduce errors. These systems are also used in part recognition and manipulation, identifying parts as they move through the assembly line and re-positioning them for the next part of the process. Where location and positioning is automated, accuracy and speed is improved even more.

The Centre’s automated fixturing capabilities can help to reduce set-up time and assembly fixturing. By developing reconfigurable and automated fixtures, components of different shapes and sizes can be held by the same vice with minimal adjustment time.

For demonstrations and for testing prototype automated systems, CECA have several robots on-site, including: a  a Mitsubishi 3kg robot and a Kuka 16kg robot.  An OC Robotics snake arm robot, currently on order, is to be  used for accessing places that are difficult to reach by humans.
By developing advanced metrology solutions for their own projects at CECA,  manufacturers are able to implement these technologies into production  quickly and with low risk. The collaboration is aimed not just at the large companies, such as Airbus and Boeing, but also at  smaller companies further down the supply chain,. They too can benefit from the development and demonstration of advanced assembly processes.
Professor Keith Ridgway, CECA Academic Director and Director of the University of Sheffield´s AMRC with Boeing, said: "CECA is a pioneering collaboration between industry and academia that´s delivering the latest assembly technologies to manufacturers. It´s a ground-breaking example of an industrial-quality research and development facility assisting and enhancing the capabilities of British manufacturing." 

Contact: Jim Heley
Telephone: +44 (0)1909 772341
Email: j.heley@sheffield.ac.uk


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