MBDA is a leading European manufacturer in the aerospace and armaments sector, specializing in the design of missiles and missile systems for the operational needs of the three branches of the military (army, navy and air force).
MBDA France’s Bourges site specializes in the manufacture of tactical missile equipment utilising several key technologies: mechanical manufacturing (metal and composite materials) and electromechanical assembly.
The company wanted to robotise certain processes in small series or even single unit production, by allowing an operator with no programming skills to teach the robotic system, in just a few seconds, the process to be carried out, and then to execute the cycle with complete confidence without human supervision.
Fuzzy Logic’s Repplix application software module addresses all aspects of this requirement in a cost-effective manner. The first use case selected was the tedious, manual cleaning of the moulds used to manufacture composites.
MBDA France’s Bourges site produces numerous small series of composite parts that have to be moulded. Each mould is manually stripped clean before being used in production.
This operation is complex: the parts to be treated are diverse and numerous and in each series, the level of residue to be stripped off, and its location may vary. This method of operation is tedious, and it also requires protecting the operator from exposure to toxic substances.
Vincent Rafin, head of the Factory of the Future Project at MBDA, explains: “At MBDA we look for agility when it comes to robotisation.
“We want to robotise tasks which cause muscolo-skeletal disorders in our operators, and which occur in certain cases in the production of very small series or even single parts, so we need to keep the non-recurring costs of programming as low as possible.
“Programming a robot to define the trajectories of a laser is not the right approach for small series production, it is time-consuming and costly and has to be done by a roboticist.”
For advice, MBDA turned to Meliad, a recognized expert in the aerospace industry for surface preparation and laser stripping, and to Staubli. The latter recommended Fuzzy Logic for its universal, visual programming solutions.
Programming a laser stripper on the fly, with a non-roboticist operator
Fuzzy Logic developed Repplix, an extension of its Fuzzy Studio software, in cooperation with MBDA.
A portable learning device, controlled by the operator using his knowledge of the application task, teaches the Repplix software the first laser alignment.
A monitoring function, performed via a real-time digital twin of the robotic installation created in Fuzzy Studio, takes into account collision monitoring and trajectory feasibility in the robot´s environment.
Alert parameters are set up. Trajectory capture combines several process parameters such as laser triggering and power. The operator, who is not a roboticist, is also able to modify the trajectory and process parameters via the graphical interface, even after the learning phase.
Then, from this digital twin, the cycle is launched and the robot moves with the laser, guided by the accurate capture of the trajectory learned from the operator.
The speed at which the robot operates is set directly in the software, it can differ from the speed in the learning phase.
The cycle is performed autonomously by the robot, without the need for operator supervision. The same process, which takes only a few minutes, is done for each new series of moulds.
Repplix is a different software solution, uniquely suited to robotising industrial processes like these
The solution developed in this way, is executed with millimetre precision, and is capable of extension to even more demanding applications in the future.
The manual operation can be reproduced with ease because the learning device is the representation of the real tool and is not directly linked to the robot. The operator manages the execution and planning of the movement himself using the software and the parametrized alerts.
The time needed to programme the mould cleaning operation is slashed from several hours to only a few minutes. Productivity is increased by automating the cleaning operation and the risks for the operator are reduced. This makes robotising this operation profitable, both in terms of HSE and economics.
Ryan Lober, CEO of Fuzzy Logic, says: “With Repplix, the robot becomes a precision tool in the hands of the operator. Our solution allows him to automate his task in complete autonomy, without any intervention from a specialist.
“Another advantage is that Repplix is designed to start being used immediately, with no real training required. Our solution allows the robotisation of processes where this has previously been impossible. What’s more, we have barely finished the initial application, and already, Repplix is being deployed by other users in Europe.”
Nicolas Gautier, robotics technical lead at MBDA, explains: “This technological building block is duplicable, it will become available for this first use case in the first quarter of 2022.
“As well as this, MBDA are already working on extending it to cover new applications. For example, sandblasting, painting, welding or waterjet cutting.
“These applications all have complex trajectories that need to be programmed. With conventional tools, we would need highly qualified personnel and a great deal of time and so programming them would be very costly.
“Fuzzy Logic, with Repplix has now removed this barrier, which prevented the cost-effective automation of such applications.”
Jean-Michel Duchazeaubeneix, CEO of Meliad, details how Repplix opens up new perspectives for laser stripping applications: “We offer robotic laser stripping solutions, but this robotisation remains complicated because it has to be done by specialists.
“Programming a trajectory for a small series, as is the case at MBDA, generates prohibitively high non-recurring costs that directly kill the project.
“Repplix offers us the possibility of rapidly and easily deploying our laser solutions across a wide range of repair or maintenance applications which have been difficult to implement until now, whether they be the aeronautics industry or nuclear or defense.”
As Denis Gardin, MBDA’s director of innovation and future technologies, says: “This innovation is the achievement the vision of MBDA engineers and operators who, working in close collaboration with innovative SMEs, have succeeded in taking the first step towards implementing a robotic solution which breaks the cost barrier for a wide range of use cases thanks to programming by non-invasive capture of the operators’ know-how.”