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Boeing ‘abandons’ robots in favour of humans

Boeing has reportedly abandoned the use of some robotic systems that were being used for fuselage work such as drilling and fastening.

According to the Seattle Times, the implementation of the robots “proved painful to set up and (was) error-prone”.

The news website quoted Jason Clark, Boeing vice president of 777/777X operations, who said back in 2015, when the robots were first introduced: “It’s a little tough in the teething. But as we get through it, it will create the rewards necessary for us to compete.”

Interestingly, the robotic system Boeing was using is called “Flex Track”, and is similar to the system recently integrated by Airbus, as Robotics and Automation News reported.

Similar but probably not the same, as the Boeing system was developed by Electroimpact, while Airbus is using a system supplied by MTM Robotics, which is also called “Flextrack”.

The slight difference in the name may or may not indicate that they are different systems, More as we get it.

According to Fortune, Boeing is now switching to a system called “flex tracks”, which was “honed over years of use on the 787 Dreamliner”.

Fortune says the “flex tracks” system  being used by Boeing is supplied by Electroimpact.

The operation of the two “flex track” systems seems the same.

Meanwhile, the other part of the robotic system integrates giant Kuka robots fitted with specially-made end effectors which are said to be capable of installing up to 60,000 fasteners per 777 fuselage.

Boeing had introduced all of the new robotic systems within a newly created process called “Fuselage Automated Upright Build”, which “eliminates that stress on the (human) mechanics”, as the company said a couple of years ago.

However, it not looks as if it the aerospace giant is going back to relying on human labour as it also appears to be transitioning to a modified robotic system.

It would seem unlikely that Boeing or Airbus – or any other sizeable aircraft manufacturing company – would go back to purely human labour for drilling and fastening tens of thousands of holes in plane fuselages. So a robotic system is inevitable.

However, whether or not the new robotic systems are capable of performing such tasks to a high enough quality – equivalent to that previously achieved by humans – remains to be seen.

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