Use of an assembly digital twin to improve working integration

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


The aim of my research is to improve the way in which human workers interact and understand the variations of the parts that they are making. As I am just at the beginning of my research the exact direction of this project is still open. My current thoughts are to give some feedback to a worker in a productive way that will, either in the short or long term, reduce the variability of their work. The goal being a better standard of assembly without the excessive cost and loss of skilled labour associated with fully blown automation.
This goal was inspired jointly by a CIRP meeting and a visit to a manufacturing facility owned by the company that I will be working with, GKN Aerospace. One speaker during the meeting emphasised the importance of educating the workers on the floor. This included discussing topics such as tolerances although mainly focussed on the integration of robots. The facility visit was very eye-opening as it showed me first hand the gap between current research and industry manufacturing practices. I was inspired to try find a way to bridge this gap. As I mentioned, I will be looking into the different ways one can give feedback to these workers, improving their understanding of variations and how these variations interact and stack up. This could take one of two broad forms; an overview of multiple different techniques and methods as applied to one, or a few, assembly scenario(s), the other being a detailed look into the application of one technique over a variety of assembly scenarios.
This research will tie together various aspects of product design, assemblies and tolerance analysis in a novel way. Although the majority of the methods that I envisage using at this stage have already been developed, I hope to use them in an new way to derive new, unexpected, benefits from them.
This project falls within the EPSRC Manufacturing Technologies research area, a subsection of engineering generally. It aligns very well with this area as it aims to improve the precision and reliability of assemblies, two of the key points noted by the EPSRC. It has potential to tie into all 4 of the Productive Nation outcomes, thanks to the wide range of assembly scenarios, and the Connected Nations outcome C5 as it improves the overall 'intelligence' and interconnectedness of the assembly process.
As mentioned previously, my industrial partner throughout my PhD will be GKN Aerospace. Their interest in this area stems from the complexity of aircraft assembly. Such assemblies require incredibly tight tolerances over very large parts, which is hard to achieve in a cost effective manner. Many parts need to be re-worked at a large expense to the company. Full automation of many processes would reduce this error yet the initial set-up cost of this is too large for their senior management to allow. The introduction of a hybrid method involving a full or partial twin of the assembly line would allow for a lower cost option whilst still improving the quality of their product.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/V519650/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2027
2625244 Studentship EP/V519650/1 30/09/2021 29/09/2025 Robert Ballantyne