Robots to Help with Aircraft Cabin Installations, Predicts ZAL

Image via ZAL Center of Applied Aeronautical Research GmbH

In the future, it looks as though aircraft cabin interiors will be installed by humans and machines working side by side, as is already the case for the fuselage on the final assembly line.

From February 27-28, Hamburg’s ZAL Center of Applied Aeronautical Research hosted the second iteration of its ZAL Innovation Days event, with a focus on robotics and automation.

The event featured a series of high-profile lectures on the topic from the perspective of science and industry, while the practical application of new technologies was explored through a range of workshops and a dedicated exhibition space. Technology on show included a new inkjet-based aircraft coating system and a robot butler for the aircraft manufacturing hangar.

Roland Gerhards, CEO of the ZAL Center for Applied Aerospace Research, said, “The smart integration of robotics and automation into the production process is one of the central issues in the aviation industry worldwide and is also one of the core topics of our research activities here in the ZAL. That’s why we deliberately chose this theme for the ZAL Innovation Days 2019 here in Hamburg – to discuss nation and industry-wide strategies.”

“Creating interactive systems to promote collaboration between man and machine is the megatrend we are facing.” – Roland Gerhards, ZAL TechCenter

At the ZAL TechCenter, Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg and the University of Innsbruck in Austria are both working together with Airbus to test the use of exoskeletons in aircraft production, with a view to aiding production workers in the lifting of heavy loads during cabin upgrades, for example. So far, they have created more then 20 functional prototypes for the support of different body parts from ankle up to hand support.

Professor Robert Weidner, who works at both universities, said, “The goal is not to generate terminator. The aim is to improve ergonomics in the workplace and to make work more pleasant. To achieve this, it is important to maintain a natural load and to avoid overloading. Use cases for our exoskeletons involve tasks at head level or above that involve lifting components or tools, tasks in bending position or tasks that involve gripping things.”

The connection between humans and robots was a strong theme at the event. “Creating interactive systems to promote collaboration between man and machine is the megatrend we are facing, whereby human senses are imitated by robots in order to perform certain tasks more efficiently together as a team,” stated Gerhards.

However, he is aware that challenges still remain. “A major obstacle is certainly the legal basis for the approval of robotic systems,” Gerhards continued. “The legal situation is not yet as advanced as the technologies are: For innovative, technical robotic systems, a number of new guidelines must be created with regard to occupational safety and safety technology. In addition, the comprehensive digitalization of work processes is necessary in order to record and process data, and to be able to design robots in a targeted manner.”

The first ZAL Innovation Days event took place in 2017 and also included sessions covering aspects of artificial intelligence and automation.