The fiber placement system is ISAAC’s initial operational capability, but far from its only one. One reason that NASA invested in this particular robotics system is its ability to work with end effectors designed and built by the ISAAC team and/or by third-party vendors.
“What ISAAC is really all about is being able to switch end effectors to do a myriad of things and advance the ball in many different directions,” says Wu.
“We are looking at alternate things we could put on the business end of the robot – things like non-destructive evaluation, automated ply inspection and metal additive technologies,” says Brian Stewart, ISAAC integration manager.
Automating the inspection process for composite products, for example, could allow composites manufacturers to make better use of their AFP equipment. Several companies have told Wu that their AFP machines are only being used at 50 to 75 percent of their full potential because of process roadblocks. He cites the example of Spirit AeroSystems, which is building the fuselage for Boeing’s new 787 aircraft.
“It takes them roughly a week or so to make one of those fuselage sections using their fiber placement machines,” says Wu. “But if you look at the total cycle from the time they start that process until it actually goes into the autoclave, it’s about a month. There’s a large manual inspection component in there – two to three weeks.”