Automation isn’t just a job for the robots: It takes flesh-and-blood workers to make robotic manufacturing work, as shown in a new video about the machines that set fasteners on Boeing’s 777 jets.
Boeing’s Fuselage Automated Upright Build, or FAUB, works with operators and mechanics at the company’s plant in Everett, Wash., to do some of the heavy lifting for 777 assembly. So far, more than 40 jets have gotten the FAUB treatment.
The job begins when teams of mechanics move the panels that form the forward and aft sections of the fuselage into place. Pairs of robots, inside and out, move in unison to “drill and fill” the thousands of fasteners required to secure the panels.
In Boeing’s feature about FAUB, mechanic Mike Jennings says all that drilling and filling used to be done by hand – a task that was “really tough and stressful” on his back, neck, shoulders and arms.
Now Jennings is a robot operator – monitoring views from a camera mounted on the robot arm, maintaining the system and making tweaks to optimize performance.
“I’m learning a new aspect of manufacturing, and that’s really cool,” he said.
Samantha Jarema, who’s part of the FAUB Production and Integration team at the Everett plant, says the robots speed up the build process and provide an extra measure of flexibility.
“Most everything in here is on wheels,” she said. “We can build any portion of the forward or aft section in any of our six main production positions.”
Mechanics can move the robots and parts around on robo-trucks known as automated guided vehicles, or AGVs. All that mobility will come in handy when it’s time to phase in Boeing’s new 777X jets alongside the other 777 models, said Ben Nimmergut, chief engineer for 777 production engineering.
Boeing is still in the midst of a learning curve for FAUB, but the company says the system will soon speed up the build process.
“In any new-development production system like this, there’s going to be challenges,” Nimmergut said. “What we’re really appreciating is that [we] continue to grow and learn from those challenges, and that’s expected. It’s OK.”