Roger Richardson | 11.27.12
Airplane Mechanic’s Frustration Leads to U.S. Department of Defense
Innovation Award for Delta Sigma Company
MARIETTA, Ga., Nov. 27, 2012 – An airplane mechanic’s frustration has led to a revolutionary change in how large, complex products are built. A pioneering technology called ProjectionWorks is saving aircraft manufacturers hundreds of hours and has earned its inventor, Delta Sigma Company of Kennesaw, Ga., the nation’s top manufacturing innovation award.
ProjectionWorks is the key component of the Fastener Insertion Live Link System (FILLS), developed by a team of aerospace companies.
“This disruptive manufacturing technology has saved more than 200 hours per plane and a potential $111 million for the F-35 program alone,” said David See, Project Manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory. “FILLS will revolutionize how we assemble, maintain and repair our fleets – from jets, to submarines, to ships, to satellites.”
“Before ProjectionWorks, mechanics on the F-35 assembly line at Lockheed Martin had to manually measure and record each of the 30,000 holes drilled in the center fuselage,” said Luke McHale, Manager of Manufacturing Technology at Lockheed Martin Aerospace. “Workers then had to install one of the 370 different fastener part numbers into each hole.
“The FILLS process automates data input and compares the data against original specifications”, McHale said. This allows mechanics on the assembly line to see the most recent information relative to any aircraft or product they are working on, in order to install the right part in the most efficient and accurate manner. Now, dozens of mechanics on our F-35, P3, C-5 and C-130 production lines are using Delta Sigma’s ProjectionWorks 3-D technology to project assembly instructions directly onto aircraft parts. The future of aircraft manufacturing has been fundamentally altered with this new technology.”
The FILLS team members – Variation Reduction Solutions, Inc., Delta Sigma, Lockheed Martin Aerospace, and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, – received the 2012 Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award on Nov. 27 at the Defense Manufacturing Conference in Orlando. The team developed FILLS for F-35 production under a Small Business Innovative Research Grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The FILLS team developed an improved “digital thread process,” where digital information collected by a computer is directly linked to the factory floor. “FILLS automates the hole measurements that are done on the assembly line and stores the measurements in a database,” said Roger Richardson, Business Development Director for Delta Sigma. “FILLS then automatically creates a list of fasteners that are brought to the assembly line. ProjectionWorks then projects a color-coded map showing where the correct fasteners are to be installed, in the sequence they are to be installed. The 3-D map includes part numbers, directions and access to an encyclopedia of information.”
“People have been looking at 3-D models on their computer screens for years, but the computer screen is only 2-D,” the Air Force’s See said. “For the first time in history, 3-D data can be presented that is actually 3-D! This unique capability extends the digital thread from the design engineer’s desk across the factory floor and even out to the flight line. This is important to the DoD because it allows building multiple variants of any weapon or weapons delivery system on the same line.”
“Early adopters of the ProjectionWorks technology have seen an average savings of more than 85 hours on aircraft assembly,” Richardson said. “Historically, collecting accurate data has not been the problem, but figuring out how to display that data in a useful way has been a huge challenge. The ability to optically project undistorted 3-D instructions and symbols onto contoured surfaces has completely removed that challenge.”
Partners in the FILLS program see it as a significant advance in manufacturing capability and efficiency, allowing assembly technicians around the globe to access and use the most current information.
“FILLS changes the way we think about assembling complex structures the way that CAD programs changed the way we think about designing them,” said Joe Festa with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “With this progressive technology, we’ve been able to save a total of $91 million for the center fuselage assembly at our Palmdale F-35 program. There’s no going back.”
Delta Sigma Company specializes in developing systems and tools to automate large, complex, precision assembly and manufacturing processes. It is an ISO 9001:2008 registered company, located in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Delta Sigma started more than 20 years ago by designing and building specialized radar cross section measurement equipment, and has since added aircraft manufacturing tooling and other automation processes. In 2005, Delta Sigma expanded to include 3-D Optical Projections, creating ProjectionWorks to aid in large-scale manufacturing. Delta Sigma engineers all of its own designs and software and builds all its machines in-house from the ground up, resulting in a completely custom automation solution for the customer.
The 2012 Defense Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) Achievement Award recognizes and honors the team members whose projects demonstrated outstanding technical accomplishments in achieving the Department of Defense ManTech Program vision to ”realize a responsive world-class manufacturing capability to affordably meet Warfighters’ needs throughout the defense system life cycle.” The annual award is sponsored by the Joint Defense Manufacturing Technology Panel (JDMTP), and was presented on Nov. 27, 2012, at the Defense Manufacturers Conference in Orlando.
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