Here’s the big idea
Imagine the factory floor as a huge chessboard and on it you place large robots, which can pick up an array of different tools. The robots are set on a reconfigurable grid, which can be unlocked and moved to different locations (hence the chessboard analogy). The robots are placed around a central aircraft structure — and then asked to perform various jobs.
Aircraft factories are traditionally custom-built to order. Even well-defined ones, built on known technologies, take two years’ minimum.
That’s why Team Tempest wanted to explore a more reconfigurable and agile concept - to drastically reduce the time taken to build the next generation of fighter aircraft. Our Factory of the Future is a reconfigurable build environment that can be switched from one product to the next within a couple of weeks.
Successfully introducing a modular system enables us to bring projects to production much quicker.
ElectroImpact are one of more than 40 blue chip and SME companies and academic institutions involved in the development of the Factory>>. We teamed up with ElectroImpact, a Seattle-based specialist in the design and build of airplane factories who have expanded their capability to Flintshire over the last decade.
They took the concept — a modular flooring system and modular robotic system for building Tempest — and turning it into reality.
“The two big tasks we're looking at are: How we position the pieces of the aircraft, and then how we fasten them together,” says ElectroImpact’s Craig Turnbull. “It's an interesting challenge because it's not production focused, it’s more of a science lab in which to build fighter jets, in the sense that we're trying to create a production laboratory.”
It’s never been done before
“There’s not any design handbook for this. We haven't done anything like this before — nobody has,” says Craig. “It's unique partly because this idea of a reconfigurable factory is only useful for certain industries, like future fighter aircraft production.”
Partners not suppliers
What’s fascinating about this project is the way, a very collaborative way, of working between ElectroImpact and BAE Systems has developed. Craig says: “They are very open, will listen to problems, absorb them and understand them. Then they make decisions relatively quickly, which works for us.”
Despite the differences in scale between the partners there’s a shared spirit of adventure for the teams involved in the Tempest project which Craig calls a ‘Let's get on with it’ ethos. “We've subscribed to the ‘Fail Fast and Fail Well’ mentality for years. And, to be fair to BAE Systems, rather than forcing us down a route to mirror their corporate structure, they are operating in the same way. We are very informal, there's lots of whiteboards around and people are encouraged to do little experiments.