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.
According to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the factors in the collapse of the original World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, was the reduction in the yield strength of the steel reinforcement as a result of the high temperatures of the fire and the loss of thermal insulation.
Robots are getting more agile and automation systems are becoming more complex. Yet the most impressive development in robotics and automation is increased intelligence. Machines in automation are increasingly able to analyze huge amounts of data. They are often able to see, speak, even imitate patterns of human thinking. Researchers at European Automation
call this deep learning.
The promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is that devices, gadgets, and appliances we use every day will be able to communicate with one another. This potential is not limited to household items or smartphones, but also things we find in our yard and garden, as evidenced by a recent challenge from the element14 design community.
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