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Machine Safety Gets You Soaring Towards Productivity & Profitability

AIT uses Siemens highly integrated solutions platform, with SIMATIC Safety PLC, Sinamics drives and Simotion motion control over the PROFINET network, to go above & beyond to improve performance & productivity for Boeing’s Dreamliner fuselage assembly process

Advanced Integration Technology (AIT) is a 20-year-old supplier of turnkey industrial automation systems for the aerospace industry.  The company’s strength centers on the design and build of complex, fully integrated manufacturing, tooling and assembly systems for commercial and military aircraft, produced by the world’s leading suppliers, including Boeing, Bombardier, EADS, British Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Spirit AeroSystems, Vought and others.  Its reputation as an established partner to these companies is well known, despite its relative corporate youth.  AIT operates six locations in the U.S., Canada, Sweden and Spain to serve its growing customer base.

All actions in each section are controlled and monitored by Siemens SIMOTION motion controllers, SINAMICS drives, failsafe CPU, safety devices and distributed I/O, working either independently or in concert, as the production requires.

All actions in each section are controlled and monitored by Siemens SIMOTION motion controllers, SINAMICS drives, failsafe CPU, safety devices and distributed I/O, working either independently or in concert, as the production requires

On a recent project involving production of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, AIT designed and built all final body assembly systems needed to join the major fuselage components, plus a moving production line.  Key elements in this design included the motion control system, servo drive platforms, failsafe CPUs and all distributed I/O, with the entire system communicating over a Profinet network.  In addition, the integration of comprehensive safety technology was incorporated into the standard automation on these systems.

As a prime contractor on the 787, AIT had responsibility for the final assembly and body join functions, charged with delivering a fully automated positioning and joining system.  In the end, two complete assembly systems and one positioning system were provided.  The three main sections of the fuselage are joined, with 14 positioners mounted to transport structures that move either independently or interlocked and indexed to the factory floor for stability.  Real-time positioning measurement data are logged with an integrated indoor GPS.  AIT designed the alignment and positioning systems to allow rolling them under the aircraft dollies after the sections were brought into the Boeing factory, radically reducing auxiliary equipment needs, materials handling requirements and additional positioning steps in the overall process.

Onsite at Boeing, the 14 positioning system components were moved into their respective locations near the cradle dollies and engaged to lift and move the aircraft sections.  Once the system was rigidly joined, a measurement system onboard located the airplane sections.  This information was fed to the AIT system’s software application.  From those data points, the system could then calculate how much each section (nose, tail, left and right wings) needed to move to ensure an exact fit to the adjoining section.  This precise alignment ensured a smooth and more rapid build of each aircraft’s fuselage.

In commenting on the particulars of this system’s requirements for his company, Ed Chalupa, president of AIT, explains, “We looked for a supplier with an off-the-shelf selection of automation and motion control solutions, who could offer us global support.  Our goal here was to align ourselves with a leading automation technology supplier and to utilize all current software, integrated safety and control technology advancements.  Both Boeing and AIT were keenly sensitive to lifecycle security issues in this critical area of the project.”  He further noted that it was vital the chosen supplier be able to provide comprehensive application engineering support, training on both the products and software, plus prototype and demo equipment for AIT’s use with its customer and internally, with ongoing technical support agreements, covering both the products and software updates.

After an extensive review of several global contenders, the selection was made for Siemens control system components.

Click to view -> schematic shows the independent but interconnected nature of the control platforms for each section.  The Siemens SCALANCE wireless technology is used for system switching.

Section 47 (aft fuselage) of 787 in AITs FBJ

Section 47 (aft fuselage) of 787 in AITs FBJ

The basic scheme of the motion control system implemented here comprises a Simotion D motion controller, Siemens HMI on a Windows-based PC, a SIMATIC S7 Safety PLC and fail-safe/standard I/O modules, all running on a Profinet network.  This basic architecture was then multiplied by the number of control nodes for each specific operational system in the overall production line being designed by AIT.  Each unit is capable of working independently of the others in the line.  Or, with the addition of relatively few Profinet cables and mode selctions on each unit, the final body join assembly tool is able to run as a single entity.  When running together in this latter configuration, the safety devices are likewise working coherently, providing proper response levels to all E-stop events on the line.  Each unit motion controller receives commands to perform uniform group movements with the tool as a whole via network communications from the HMI.

Specifically, the Siemens Simotion D motion controller used here controls all axis movements to accurately position and align parts.  Because AIT delivers a turnkey and dedicated system, customers have no need for further internal customization of the controller hardware or HMI panels.

Position 2 full FBJ tool

Position 2 full FBJ tool

AIT designed the overall layout of the control architecture, programmed the Simotion system with the Simatic S7 PLC, distributed I/O and integrated safety, plus provided support on the Boeing internal structure and lifecycle support requirements.

The integrated safety concept on this overall system was based upon three core principles:  increasingly layered safety architectures, greater degrees of integration between the control and safety systems, plus more use of networking, especially Industrial Ethernet and currently available motion technologies.

In operational sequence, these safety principles manifest themselves in the form of physical barriers and mechanical means such as walls, gates, door interlocks and light curtains, all designed to separate personnel from danger.  Meanwhile, the control systems, including programmable safety relays and safety PLCs, monitor operating conditions within established parameters.  Finally, safety shutdown systems such as automatic shutdown via safety PLC or manual shutdown via E-stops, offer the final protections.

FBJ showing wing trivet for wing join

FBJ showing wing trivet for wing join

Siemens engineered a safety protocol that simplified the complexity often encountered in the integration of control and safety systems.  This was achieved by reducing the issues related to different programming languages and procedures, installation and configuration requirements, maintenance procedures and human error factors.  The result for AIT and its customer Boeing was lower total cost of ownership (TCO), owing to the substantial reduction in engineering, hardware, training and spare parts needed.

With integrated safety and control, the project has a single system for standard and safe automation, with one bus and one engineering system for both standard and safety technology, which further reduces cost.  As a collateral benefit, the software solutions allow easier replication of series machines.   Likewise, faster troubleshooting and extensive diagnostics onboard reduce downtimes on the floor, with faster restart after issue resolution.  Functionally, too, this safety integration in the control system allows uniform user interfaces and data libraries, plus a reduction in the variety of control cabinets needed for the various applications.

PROFIsafe®, the first communication safety-profile meeting the IEC 61508 safety requirements, is the backbone of all fail-safe communication.  PROFIsafe® facilitates the transmission of both standard and safety-related data on a single bus cable, using either Ethernet or fieldbus protocol.   With advanced PLC and Industrial Ethernet networking technologies combined, the system safety for AIT and its customer became a production asset that protects the workers from harm and also ensures maximum availability and uptime.   Reductions in initial capital expense and field operating expense were also realized.

Final assembly of first 787

Final assembly of first 787

According to AIT engineering, SIMATIC Safety PLC brought the highest possible integration of safety and ease of designing a complex system into the automation scenario for this project.

In the field, the final assembly and body join automated assembly systems, plus positioning system provided to Boeing, are utilized to join Section 41 (forward fuselage), Sections 47/48 (aft fuselage) and Section 12 (left and right side wings) to the mid-fuselage of the 787 Dreamliner aircraft.  Two major sub-assemblies, namely the forward/aft body positioners and left/right wing positioners, are further split for transport into left- and right-hand minor sub-assemblies.

Motion Control, advanced PLC systems and industrial Ethernet networking technologies have enabled machine safety to become a production asset that not only protects workers from harm but also ensures maximum availability and uptime.

Machine Safety gives a competitive edge that goes to producers with highly integrated operations that are faster, more flexible and more responsive to changing market demands and opportunities, as AIT has shown in Boeing’s Dreamliner fuselage assembly process.

AIT designs and manufactures custom tooling and assembly equipment used to fabricate and assemble major commercial and military aircraft.  As part of its total value proposition, AIT houses over 600,000 square feet for engineering, precision metal fabrication, machining and assembly of its production systems.  The company’s equipment is typically used for assembly as well as machining of all the current aircraft structure materials, including aluminum, aluminum alloys, titanium, carbon fiber, Invar and many specialty alloys and composite substrates. 

For further information on this story, please contact:

2805 E. Plano Pkwy.
Suite 100
Plano, TX 75074
Phone:  972-423-8354
Fax:  972-423-8469
Web:  www.aint.com
Email:  ait@aint.com
Attention:  Ed Chalupa, President or Susan Hardaway, Marketing Mgr.


390 Kent Avenue
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Phone: 847-640-1595
Fax: 847-437-0784
Web:  www.usa.siemens.com/simotion
Email:  SiemensMTBUMarCom.sea@siemens.com
Attention:  John Meyer, Manager, Marketing Communications

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Siemens Industry Sector is the world’s leading supplier of innovative and environmentally friendly products, solutions and services for industrial customers. With end-to-end automation technology and industrial software, solid vertical-market expertise, and technology-based services, the sector enhances its customers’ productivity, efficiency and flexibility. With a global workforce of more than 100,000 employees, the Industry Sector comprises the Industry Automation, Drive Technologies and Customer Services Divisions as well as the Metals Technologies Business Unit. For more information, visit http://www.usa.siemens.com/industry.

The Siemens Drive Technologies Division is the world’s leading supplier of products, systems, applications, solutions and services for the entire drive train, with electrical and mechanical components. Drive Technologies serves all vertical markets in the production and process industries as well as the infrastructure/energy segment. With its products and solutions, the division enables its customers to achieve productivity, energy efficiency and reliability. For more information, visit http://www.usa.siemens.com/drivetechnologies.