The first of several machine tools to automate fuselage skin panel assembly for the giant U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III airlifter now operates at Boeing's Long Beach, CA, facilities. The machine, a Torres Mill 5-axis NC trimming and drilling machine, can trim and drill skin panels as long as 40 ft and as wide as 12 ft, with a curvature of up to 3 ft. And it can accomplish this task at a rate of 400 inches a minute. The machine also precisely drills tool-coordinating holes for locating detail parts in later assembly operations. An electronic database of the parts' dimensions controls the drilling and trimming operations. It provides an accuracy to within 0.002 inch, less than the thickness of a human hair. It also cuts out openings for hatches, access panels, and wiring and tubing. The accuracy is needed for two follow-on automation machines planned for operation early this year. One, a 33-ft-tall, 50-ft-wide riveter, will combine several smaller skin panels into one large panel and add the internal frames. The second will attach the underfloor bulkheads. E-mail David Eastman at www.boeingmedia.com.
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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