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ROBOTICS VITAL FOR TODAY’S AIRCRAFT MANUFACTURING, SAY EXPERTS

Abu Dhabi’s Global Aerospace Summit to discuss aviation industrial automation: the upside and workforce challenges

01 February, 2016 – Abu Dhabi, UAE: Leading aerospace manufacturers are embracing robotics as a vital innovation in today’s aircraft manufacturing while anticipating challenges in meeting new-generation workforce demands.

Industry leaders say robotics have become the need of the hour to tackle huge aircraft order books, recently estimated by the Financial Times at close to 12,000 planes between Boeing and Airbus alone, which translates to between eight and 10 years’ production time.

In its recently released Technology Vision global survey, the multinational management consultancy Accenture has identified an upswing in automation within the aerospace and defense industries but points to increasing concerns on talent management.

“The majority of aerospace and defense executives are anticipating an increase in automation on the production line. Commensurate with this anticipated higher level of automation is a significant shift in workforce talent from specialists to multi-skilled generalists,” said John Schmidt, Global Managing Director for Accenture’s Aerospace and Defense practice.

In March, automation in the aerospace and defense industries will come under discussion by the sectors’ C-suite leaders when Schmidt moderates focussed debate at the Global Aerospace Summit, which will be held at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) on March 7 and 8. Expert panellists addressing an audience from the invited 1,000 industry leaders include Eric V. Roegner, COO, & President, Engineered Products & President, Alcoa Defense, Cognit’s General Manager Sami Issa and Summit advisory board member and CFO of the UAE’s Strata Manufacturing, Amer Siddiqui.

A switch from traditional, proven assembly methods to robotics for precision tasks has been identified by the Summit’s elite advisory board with one member, David P. Hess of United Technologies saying the drive to do more for less is improving operational productivity.

“A good example of this is the new automated assembly line that we have developed to build our new gear tripod fan family of engines. For example, with the new assembly line we have roughly 30% more productivity that we had with the old method of manufacturing engines. So it’s innovations like that, not just in design but in manufacturing technology that allows us to be more productive,” said Hess, the Senior Vice President, Aerospace Business Development, United Technologies, which supplies the aerospace industry with high technology products and services.

Amer Siddiqui, believes the Summit’s robotics debate in Abu Dhabi has arrived in the right place at the right time. “Everyone has great ideas and the summit is an opportunity to talk and share these ideas,” he said. “There already is automation in the aerospace industry, however, from my perspective, the aerospace industry will take a lead from the automotive industry because the volume of aircraft is growing rapidly. With this growth, we need to improve takt times and produce a better product at a more competitive cost. Therefore, I would expect a lot of automation coming into play with robotics, particularly on complex projects.”

Strata Manufacturing, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mubadala Development Company, the Summit’s host, operates a composite aero-structures manufacturing facility Abu Dhabi’s second city of Al Ain.

Most recently Airbus reiterated its commitment to innovation by investing in robotics at its $600 million assembly line in Mobile, Alabama and as part of its Spanish research and technology project FUTURASSY, plans to automate assembly processes using a harmonised robotic solution. Plans are also afoot to increase production of the A320 to 60 planes a month.

Curtis Carson, Airbus Head of Research and Technology, Industrial Strategy and Systems, said: "at Airbus we are proud of the huge inroads achieved in the field of robotics and automation which has helped us usher in a new era in aerospace manufacturing. For instance, Airbus Helicopters has already deployed a first-generation mechanical exoskeleton at the Marignane plant and is investigating the application for more sophisticated electronic exoskeletons. We are also now in production trials with smart connected tools on our shop floor at Airbus.

“We believe innovation such as this is key for sustainable growth and as part of our future vision. We are proactively exploring how we can incorporate robotics and automation while keeping our employees at the heart of our vision, to boost their abilities and help increase productivity. We are excited about turning these ideas into reality and are actively engaged in making Airbus’ ‘factory of the future’ vision a reality.”

Following the success of automated applications in tasks such as drilling and fastening, inspection, welding, sealing, dispensing and rigid manufacturing in aircraft production, industrial automation is fast becoming indispensable for the aerospace industry across a much wider remit, according to Boeing Airplanes.

“Advanced Manufacturing, which includes automation, includes projects or initiatives in Boeing Commercial Airplanes that drive improvements in our production system. It enables our manufacturing capabilities through advanced technology, engineering, design integration and continuous improvement. When looking at implementing automation we are focused on areas that will improve employee safety by removing ergonomic risks. We also look at build functions where automation can enhance quality and productivity. Advanced Manufacturing processes will also enable us to meet increasing future rates by improving productivity and improving flow,” said a Boeing spokesperson.

Industry experts are now eagerly anticipating the Global Aerospace Summit discussions to discover how the aerospace, defence, aviation and space industries plan to take automation to the next level.

“Our advisory board was unanimous in the need for a discussion on this revolutionary manufacturing era which is a key component of Innovation – the theme of this year’s Summit” explained Nick Webb, Managing Partner of Streamline Marketing Group (SMG), which organises the biennial Summit. “The Summit will also examine whether the industry is investing in the right technology, which R&D areas the industry could be investing in and how the current market changes are reshaping the industry. Panellists will also debate the knock-on effects of automation on workforces, the effectiveness and commercial viability of additive manufacturing technology and whether CAA 3D parts qualification and certification can be simplified.”

Hosted by Mubadala Development Company, the 2016 Summit, the third in the series, is part of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Aviation and Aerospace Week, which is held under the patronage of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Abu Dhabi Airports Company is backing the Summit as an official event partner while Etihad Airways is its official airline.

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