BAE Systems is at the forefront of UK research into Industry 4.0 and the digital technologies needed to make it happen. These technologies will be essential to improve productivity, which the UK needs to do to remain competitive. With our pedigree in complex manufacturing, we are researching and developing our own smart factory vision.
Working alongside other leading companies and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, our focus has been on the five key underpinning digital technologies: additive manufacturing; visualisation; connectivity; data accessibility and automation.
Using automation and data we remove significant elements of tooling, bringing down set-up and infrastructure costs. We can look earlier in the life-cycle and automate future downstream processes. Austin Cook, Lead Technologist in Emerging Technologies & Systems
These technologies are already supporting our move to smarter, integrated and automated processes in the future, as we upgrade our legacy facilities while simultaneously improving support for our existing platforms.
Austin Cook, Lead Technologist in Emerging Technologies & Systems, explained: “Using automation and data we remove significant elements of tooling, bringing down set-up and infrastructure costs. We can look earlier in the life-cycle and automate future downstream processes.”
As part of our Integrated Autonomous Assembly Demonstrator with the University of Nottingham, we have prototyped robotic assembly of aircraft structures and used data from digital designs to optimise the manufacturing process. This has paved the way for the development of adaptable and reconfigurable factories, as well as ‘cobotics’ technologies – enabling people and robots to work in co-operation on complex tasks.
Validated through simulation and manufacturing system data, we can flex the system to manufacture different products within the same area of the factory. A reconfigurable cell allows processes to be co-located and shifts us towards a much more adaptable factory.
Vital to our smart factory vision is the ability to capture manufacturing data from the start of the process right the way through to completion. With this we can spot inefficiencies and maximise available resources, both time and materials. This data will also reduce non-recurring cost, tracking each component in the production system to identify and fix faults early and optimise our ability to deliver. Operational performance and quality data will also be fed back into the design process to improve future generations.
BAE Systems is integral to the development of a high value manufacturing enterprise zone in the North West of England where, with Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, we are hosting a 5G testbed to understand how best to use this technology across our supply chain, including with SMEs. As well as helping to create a factory for the future, new thinking from this programme is already being applied to our existing products and platforms.
Through our work on Integrated Autonomous Assembly, we have developed a SMART bench to link tools and augmented reality, together with data generated before and after manufacture. As well as being the future model for manufacturing sub-assemblies, this SMART bench went into the existing Typhoon production line in June 2019, where it is already delivering cost and time reductions.