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ACCLAIM: The inside story for cabin design, simulation and installation

ACCLAIM (Automated Cabin and Cargo Lining and Hatrack Installation Method) — a cluster of four partner projects focused around improvement of the assembly of cabin & cargo lining and hatrack elements — is contributing to Clean Sky's Next Generation Cabin and Cargo project. The aim is to leverage the efficiency of robotics and simulation technologies to support the human workforce and enhance aircraft cabin product quality, accelerate productivity rates and reduce costs. Two thirds of the way into its timeline, we take a look at how this multi-part initiative is shaping up.

ACCLAIM is designed to work symbiotically with the human workforce to improve working condition ergonomics, particularly in areas such as lifting and aligning heavy components such as hatracks (also referred to as overhead stowage or luggage bins) within the tight confines of an aircraft fuselage. The initiative is a European cooperation with 10 different partner companies and institutes, involved in 4 different projects and is promoted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM which is responsible for coordination and validation of the results.

"ACCLAIM empowers the workers to install parts by using robotics to enable them to perform better operations. It’s a mix between man and machine, using robotization to be faster in the assembly of the cabin & cargo elements, for cabin & cargo lining and hatracks for example" says Paolo Trinchieri, Project Officer at Clean Sky.

The ACCLAIM cluster includes these four complementary partner grants:

  • SIMFAL aids the assembly planning through simulation of an aircraft final assembly line
  • CALITO focuses on the design and manufacture of sidewall panels and hatracks
  • EURECA    enhances human/robot cooperation in cabin and cargo assembly tasks
  • VISTA handles inspections after the installation phase

The overall objective of ACCLAIM is to contribute to the development of a Future Aircraft Factory requiring automation technologies. Aiming at TRL 6, the idea is to develop specific technology building bricks to automate aircraft cabin and cargo assembly tasks using the capabilities of the latest generation of robots, sensors, and control units. This means that the future design processes of cabin interior parts and joining elements must take into account certain factors to make them suited to a more automated level of assembly and installation.

"New lightweight materials make future cabin and cargo lining and hatrack parts more efficient with regard to environmentally friendly aviation. For consistent quality of these installed parts automation is the way to faster and time saving installation. The initiative shows the feasibility for digitalized future aircraft production with VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) simulation steps. As a result, the time and cost of production per aircraft will be reduced in European aviation leading to increased production efficiency" says Leander Brieskorn, Topic Manager for ACCLAIM at Fraunhofer IFAM.

"The final part design and the selection of the automation systems has been completed and already pre-tested. Therefore a fuselage mock-up has been built up at Fraunhofer IFAM in Stade, Germany, to combine, test and validate the different developed components of the partners. Also, the digital environment for the process simulation has been generated" says Brieskorn.

As for the timelines, EURECA, CALITO and SIMFAL all started early 2017 and ended in January 2020, whereas VISTA, the inspection programme, logically started later, in January 2018, and will end mid 2020.

One test demonstration was already carried out in November 2018. In this test, the sidewall assembly with the help of a robot was tested. These tests will continue further through April 2019, and in the near future a fully automated assembly of various parts will be demonstrated.

In respect of the social and environmental benefits, Brieskorn makes the point that "Today, lifting and carrying big lining and heavy hatrack parts are exhausting operations for humans. Also those parts need to be mounted using ergonomically unfavourable postures. With ACCLAIM, automated systems can take over those operations and assist the worker. Another benefit is the faster and cheaper installation with automated systems, so that time and costs will be reduced. Also, more lightweight materials are used with these parts; the aircraft will save fuel and the environment".

SIMFAL – planning the aircraft cabin of tomorrow

The main objective of SIMFAL (SIMulation of an aircraft Final Assembly Line) project within ACCLAIM is to analyse, plan, and optimise automated assembly tasks associated with cabin and cargo interior parts whereby the human workforce is augmented with automated and robotic systems.

"SIMFAL has two goals", explains Diego Borro, Head of Vision and Robotics research line at CEIT research centre (Spain), "firstly to analyse which tasks are most suited to automation. For that we have to create and simulate, in Virtual Reality, a lot of scenarios — changing conditions like the number of robots, the order of assemblies, collaboration between human and machines, etc. — and identify the optimal scenario in terms of productivity, timing, and ergonomics. The second goal is the development of an Augmented Reality tool so that the worker can perform the automated task, guided and helped in the process using AR glasses which display digital information such as 'next task, 'tracking of interest objects', and problem alerts”.

If task sequences and working scenarios can be adequately defined and foreseen by the SIMFAL solutions, significantly faster and more cost-efficient aircraft assembly processes will become possible, and, by the end of the project, SIMFAL aims to accomplish four 'deliverables':

  1. A simulation tool based on VR to simulate different scenarios of human-robot coexistence.
  2. A statistical and comparative study of human-robot coexistence considering different situations and varying parameters such as workload between human and robot, worker profile, work place, arrangement of the elements, and so on. This study includes the analysis of productivity potentials of coexistence assembly and its comparison with current productivity of the actual aircraft assembly.
  3. An assistance tool based on AR to visualise the assembly processes.
  4. An analysis of strategies to solve general problems (troubleshooting, maintenance) and unpredicted situations (changes of process sequences to adapt to situations like a lack of resources or substitution of the usual worker with a non-skilled worker) using Augmented Reality.

"Right now, we have already developed the Virtual Reality simulator platform. With this tool, we are about to create all the simulations and measure different metrics in order to see which scenario is the optimal one" says Borro.

Regarding the anticipated social and environmental benefits, in the long-term SIMFAL will reduce CO2 emissions and industrial waste due to the partial automation which could be introduced in aircraft assembly processes, because with less nonconformities and defects, there is less need for remanufacturing. The ability of SIMFAL to simulate different scenarios also makes it possible to define best process sequences and to determine the most efficient way to distribute tasks between robots and humans, promoting a more desirable working environment for Europe's workers. And that wellbeing objective is key for the future of Europe's citizens, as Borro explains:

"The SIMFAL simulation tools will allow simulating different scenarios and visualizing the processes, making it possible to evaluate the result of assigning to robots some of the non-ergonomic operations. Most of these activities could be performed by automated systems collaborating with a human workforce, thereby improving working conditions and the health of workers. The AR based simulation software will allow us to capture the best work practises, something that will affect the workers: better working postures and more efficient work — producing the same result with less effort. Consequently, costs associated with occupational diseases linked to postural issues will be reduced. It also means that older workers could continue working in assembly processes, performing added value operations".

CALITO – Designing the aircraft cabin of the future

CALITO (CAbin LIning AuTOmation design for automated installation of linings and hatracks in cabin and cargo) focuses on the redesign of aircraft passenger cabin lining parts and hatracks, as well as innovative fastening concepts to facilitate more efficient and simplified ways to handle these cabin components during a roboticized system of installation. Minimization of the number of bracket variants will simplify the line feeding process and the levelling and processing in respect of the linear ways of mounting of the robot using a modular construction system.

"In close cooperation, SFS and Solvay are developing innovative lining designs and fastening solutions for the aircraft cabin, optimized for automation. The latest materials and manufacturing processes are used for this purpose" says CALITO project coordinator, Benjamin Diehl of SFS intec GmbH, Aircraft Components. "In order to meet the high expectations of the aviation industry, we rely on multifunctional solutions, self-adjustment functionality, bracketless and gapless design as additional benefits".

SFS reports that the consortium has realised functional prototypes of sidewall lining, cargo lining, hatrack and all fastening solutions, and first installation tests were successfully performed with project partners on the demonstrator at Fraunhofer IFAM.

"After the successful realisation and testing of the first functional prototypes at the demonstrator in Stade, we will present selected CALITO results at the forthcoming Aircraft Interiors EXPO in Hamburg this April" says Diehl. "Of particular note here is the clamping concept, which, in addition to automation optimization, offers further 'added values' for OEMs, passengers and airlines. Our target between now and the end of the project is to implement close-to-production solutions that are suitable for both a new aircraft program and retrofit possibility".

CALITO also focuses on the passenger perception of a quality cabin environment too, in addition to the robotic installation method: "In the detailed design of our concepts, we have focused on the fact that the passenger will find a homogeneous aircraft cabin in the future without disturbing gaps, edges or inequalities," says Diehl, "Our goal is therefore a gapless design and self-adjustment fastening concepts. With a multifunctional clamping cover, we are also implementing an innovation within the CALITO project that integrates additional functionalities and 'added values' into our fastening solutions".

EURECA – lending a hand to the workers

Building aircraft is still, in the 21st Century, a highly manually-intensive industry in comparison to other vehicle manufacturing sectors, with some human activities carried out in non-ergonomic conditions which can lead to health concerns. Clean Sky's EURECA ( Enhanced Human Robot Cooperation in Cabin and Cargo Assembly) project is taking an Industry 4.0 approach to this issue in an effort to balance and increase productivity while improving the working environment for factory workers who work within the aircraft fuselage on assembly and installation tasks.

"The key idea of EURECA is to apply a toolbox of robotic software and hardware solutions in order to improve the human aspects of the cabin assembly processes by adding the power of autonomy and robotics to aid human tasks — it's about human-robot cooperation. But it's not just focused on robotics but also on everything related to the application of the Industry 4.0 approach in aerospace" says Nicola Pedrocchi, who leads the EURECA project at the National Research Council of Italy (CNR).

"The most important goal is to reduce the amount of the team in the aircraft since currently there are too many people in the aircraft during the assembly phases. This means it's too crowded, so quality is at risk since sometimes there are many teams working in parallel. So the idea is having a robot to support one team of people to assist the assembly processes. The big issue inside the aircraft is that there are still many activities where the high skill of humans is very important. It's not a case of just introducing a robot. The goal is to provide tools that allow humans to improve productivity while maintaining the existing good quality of work that they are doing, so it's a huge challenge".

The plan is that EURECA will use standard and commercially available lightweight state-of-the-art robotic arms, says Pedrocchi: "We design around these standard robot arms many software and hardware solutions in order to enhance collaboration and we are also designing and deploying a new robotic arm for the assembly of the hatrack since the assembly is currently beyond the capabilities of any robot that is available on the market".

The focus of EURECA is on manufacturing, but potentially the technology could be relevant in the future to the conversion of interiors of older aircraft when airline customers wish to upgrade their cabins. "Maintenance has also been evaluated especially from CALITO — the group that is investigating the new design of the parts — they are trying to design the parts according to ease the maintenance processes" says Pedrocchi.

In terms of progress, the three year EURECA project started in February 2017 and is now in its final phase. Last November the team presented the first version of the robotic hardware, and at the end of March 2019 there will be a second presentation of the concept to determine whether a design freeze is possible.

"The framework of Clean Sky doesn't just facilitate the complex research we are doing," concludes Pedrocchi, "it also allows us to design, develop and apply innovations and be really involved in having a real positive impact on European aviation".

VISTA – reality check for cabin installation

As the CALITO, EURECA and SIMFAL projects progress through their phases, VISTA (Vision-based Inspection Systems for automated Testing of Aircraft interiors) focuses on post-assembly testing of aircraft interior installations in both cabin and cargo units in order to ensure quality and reliability of the located components. This goal will be pursued by the development and implementation of a multi-sensor platform and sensor processing algorithms, integrating on-board a mobile system and an interface for data transmission, able to provide efficient automated testing and quality reports.

"The VISTA project wants to improve quality and reliability by automating post-assembly testing of interior installations, performed by using a properly sensorized robotic platform able to detect quality issues and report them back to operators with advanced and effective visualization techniques" says Ettore Stella, Research Director at the National Research Council (CNR) in Bari, Italy.

"Testing of aircraft interiors is typically performed by factory workers, but unfortunately this activity tends to be very long and requires a steady attention level, something that is very difficult to guarantee. By performing testing in automated ways, reliability and accuracy of results are enhanced" says Stella.

The project is progressing through the design stage and will reach the implementation phase in a few months, with a first prototype expected to be ready for internal testing by the end of 2019.
"The VISTA project wants to act as a reliable interior aircraft quality check assistant, able to offer quality assurance evaluators with dependable and easy to interpret information about the aircraft assembly" says Stella, who points to the anticipated outcome: "It is expected that the project will indirectly provide social benefits, for example by improving passengers' safety and comfort, while also minimizing risks to factory workers during quality inspection tasks".