Robodome imaging for high performance manufactured aerostructures

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Civil Environmental and Geomatic Eng


The next generation of energy-efficient aircraft require highly optimised aerodynamic wing surfaces engineered to increasingly tight tolerances manufactured at increasing rates of production. To facilitate this, high accuracy spatial information is required both at component interfaces and product critical surfaces to understand the manipulations needed to fit part-to-part, the impact of resultant distortions in the parts and any necessary rework. Downstream opportunities extend over the manufacturing cycle, to support adaptations in product design, materials and processes needed to optimise quality, cost, and productivity.

Challenging this activity are existing large volume metrology systems and deployments failing to achieve diverse engineering requirements; being too costly or needing deployments that disrupt or stop the manufacturing process. For current products metrology activities in aircraft wing manufacture are largely turn-key and consume over 25% of Airbus production time. In a systems paradigm that mirrors satellite navigation data and its now ubiquitous reliance for in-car and mobile phone navigation, improvement in productivity and flexibility to support new processes requires richer trustworthy spatial data from systems that are embedded into manufacturing infrastructure. Whilst capable systems are available at small to medium volumes and with innovation funding will evolve into industrial sensor networks, a research and technology gap in large-volume marker less surface metrology limits opportunity. Addressing the "tools to support the verification of models, metrology in manufacturing" theme of this EPSRC call, our proposal seeks to close the gap.

Our vision is to embed low-cost Reflectance Transformation Imaging guided by virtual optical metrology instrument models into factory spaces to achieve accuracies of the order of a few micrometres over areas of several tens of square metres. Airbus supports the PI through an REng/Airbus Chair in Large-Volume Metrology enabling R&T collaboration and access to specialists including manufacturing architects who design the digital factories of the future. Together we have co-created this proposal and will steer the fundamental research needed to develop and demonstrate scalable low-cost full-field optical metrology based on Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to support the data driven manufacture of large-volume surfaces underpinned with local metric uncertainty verification. The outcome will be validated direct optical surface measurement to unprecedented levels of accuracy across the wide variety of surface materials, forms and optical finishes that characterise advanced multi-material aerostructures. In parallel it will help inform the design of the manufacturing spaces and embedded facilities necessary to enable agile manufacture of next generation wing products in the emerging Fly Zero strategy.

Close working with partners Airbus, NCC and Taraz Metrology against industry use cases to deliver demonstrators of the developed technologies will open opportunities to extend capabilities arising from our research into other sectors where manufacture of cutting-edge high-performance digitally engineered surfaces are central to success. Examples include wind energy, shipbuilding, and onsite fabrication.


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Description Airbus Broughton Fastener Metrology 
Organisation Airbus Group
Department Airbus Operations
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution UCL has commenced imaging of aerospace realistic surfaces with a static single camera and mobile near IR light source. This work is improving our understanding of the light refelected by different surface finishes in the presence of ambient illumination. This work is fundamental to the project and its capability to meet challenging aerospace engineering requirements.
Collaborator Contribution Airbus Broughton has provided the joint UCL/Nottingham academic team with a reference object manufacutred from coated aerospace grade aluminium and fitted with a matrix of representative fastners of varying sizes. The heads of these fasterners have been deliiberatly miss-aligned and mounted at sub-surface levels that are indicative of the types of variation that might occur in a manufacturing process. The optical finishes and dimensions of the components on the reference object match those in current aerospace manufacture and provide an ideal starting point for the fundamental robodome imaging system design.
Impact There are no formal outputs or outcomes yet from this collaboration.
Start Year 2024