• Automated Layup and Inspection – A group of four panelists from the aerospace industry representing OEMs, manufacturers and engineers shared best practices for automation of layup and inspection, as well as advice on how to implement an automated system. One of the first steps, agreed the panel members, is to carefully consider the right balance between hand layup and automation. Companies should examine current labor rates, the longevity of the program they want to automate and the costs of the machine they are considering buying. Automation is only profitable if companies produce a certain amount of parts per month and per year over an extended period of time. In some cases, utilizing the layup process makes the most economic sense. In other cases, a hybrid approach with some hand layup and automation is called for.
  • Automation in Aerospace – The message to CAMX attendees at Wednesday’s theater presentation “Automation of the Aerospace Industry” was that aerospace automation will continue to grow. Alex Weisner of Austrian-based Langzauner said three main factors are driving growth. First, aerospace production rates must get faster. Second, rising levels of composite materials – more than 50 percent in the Boeing 737 and the Airbus 320 – necessitate automation. Finally, the weight of some molds has increased to 40 tons and more.

    Focusing on the latter, Weisner discussed how automated mold management can save a lot of down time. Manufacturers that would normally lose half a shift switching huge aircraft molds can use automated systems, such as those offered by Langzauner, to change molds in just a few minutes. One of Weisner’s customers uses its automated system to manage 20 different tools, each weighing up to 20 tons. Without automation, the tool exchange process could be time-consuming and “quite a big mess,” says Weisner.

No matter the specific technology or market segment, automation in the composites industry is here to stay and industry professionals are grappling with what it all means. “We’re in the middle of a digital transformation,” concluded Boden. “It’s already happening in the U.S. and in Europe under the banner of Industry 4.0. We are all trying to figure out where to land out in front of it.”