Composite manufacturing specialists at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) have made what some have called the world’s first reconfigurable carbon composite robotic machine tool.

The robot is part of a bigger project, known as Factory of the Aircraft Future, which combines the expertise of Airbus and system manufacturer Exechon to develop a new lightweight and modular robot manufactured and tested by AMRC.

According to AMRC, most robots use “serial linkage technology,” where each additional axis is mounted on the previous one, with an ‘end effector’– which holds the tools the robot uses – on the final axis. AMRC’s tool incorporates Exechon’s Parallel Kinematic Robots, which have the end effector mounted between two or more independently moveable arms, allowing movements in all directions to be made using three or more parallel axes. Exechon says Parallel Kinematic Robots can move as flexibly in the same volume as robots with a single arm, but with greater accuracy and stiffness.

“Making the structure modular and from composite means the robot can be dismantled and moved easily by two people,” says Ben Morgan, Head of the AMRC’s Integrated Manufacturing Group (IMG). “Using composites also means that changes in temperature within a factory will have less of an effect on the robot’s accuracy than if it was entirely made of metal.”

Morgan adds that the tool can be used to drill and mill holes in aircraft wings faster and without having to make major investment in purpose-built machine tools, which cannot easily be moved.