Airframe assembly represents a daunting and unique challenge for OEMs with significant fastening and drilling operations across multiple types of advanced materials including lightweight composites and traditional metallic materials. A modern airframe consists of 7 million holes for fasteners, which are the primary means used to join all components, parts, and subassemblies of air vehicles. In the current scenario, almost 85 percent of hole inspection is done manually which often causes huge risk and is equally time-consuming. Samuel Kellett, Jr., Chairman, CEO, and Co-founder of United Sciences, is set to revolutionize airframe manufacturing through their best-in-class technology, Aeroscan, a robotic sensor that automates the hole inspection process, saving time and money for airframe OEMs by eliminating unnecessary and costly rework while enabling them to collect valuable production and assembly data.
With over 18 years of experience in the technology, logistics, and healthcare sectors, Kellett believes in innovation as the core element of transformation and has successfully applied this philosophy across multiple markets. “Innovation is art”—the ethos is strongly followed by Kellett’s team at United Sciences and is evident from their groundbreaking aerospace model. Kellett’s latest initiative is applying the company’s precision 3D hole scanning solutions to airframe manufacturing. Interestingly, he does not belong to an aerospace background, yet his dedication and commitment to productize the company’s core technology have proven to be their guiding light.
Core Hole Scanning Technology
Significant cost drivers in airframe manufacturing are drilling and filling operations. “While drilling through the composite frame, there is a possibility of debris from exit burrs getting into the structural adhesives responsible for composite-to-metal bonds— which jeopardizes the strength of these bonds.
Our scanning technology is applied to manufacturing processes where precise metrology, quality, and repeatability are important factors as our solution can create significant productivity gains
The only practical way to detect this potential contamination with contemporary manufacturing technology is to “de-stack” the composite structure, or open up the airframe, after drilling,” Kellett notes. By imaging and scanning the hole with the contactless Aeroscan sensor, United Sciences is able to quickly inspect and provide a highly detailed 3D representation of the hole without de-stacking or physical intervention, saving millions per ship set. “If you want to fully automate drilling, you need to have the visibility.”
Aeroscan is available in a variety of customer-specified form factors. It is commonly employed as a highly mobile handheld device as well as a robot-enabled automated variant providing convenience and ease of use to clients. While the handheld Aeroscan can be used manually by an inspector, the automated one can be integrated or retrofitted as an end effector into most of the commercially available automated drilling and countersinking machines. The United Sciences integration team makes this possible in the least disruptive way possible. The handheld Aeroscan is also used as a complete inspection solution which can be used to re-inspect the “out-of-spec” holes identified by the automated Aeroscan in a multi-function end-effector without having to move it back to the hole.
Increasing quality and maximizing profitability, United Sciences’ core hole scanning technology is transforming the aerospace industry—turning data across the production line into actionable insights, driving throughput, and “building” new revenue streams.
Factory of the Future & the Digital Twin
Aeroscan harnesses the power of big data to connect the missing link in precision hole inspection, which is the most significant aspect of automated aircraft assembly. Kellett believes big data will drive the “factory of the future” for the aerospace industry as it drives efficiency throughout the production line. “Aeroscan is a true convergence of operational and informational technology.”
Primarily, with intelligent data and predictive analytics capabilities, Aeroscan provides context visibility into each holein real-time. Using 3D scanning and imaging to provide 50,000 data points per hole, Aeroscan enables hole-diagnostics such as burr or debris identification, drill life assessment, gap/crack detection, and a reduction of gapped fasteners and de-stacking requirements. By measuring the perpendicularity of fastener holes, Aeroscan can also detect uneven surface and avoid faulty fastener installations.
Through their best-in-class technology, United Sciences helps eliminate costly rework and enables manufacturing of airplanes faster, cheaper, better, and safer in an automated environment. For instance, one of United Sciences’ clients needed to eliminate de-stacking due to interface burr formation during hole-drilling—wasting time and collectively costing millions every year. After implementing Aeroscan, they could detect which holes needed de-stacking instead of working on all of them, saving the client up to 50 percent of time and effort on each airframe. “The mobile Aeroscan inspects the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ holes and notifies the inspector. We also have an automated unit that enables drilling, inspecting, and filling simultaneously,” adds Kellett.
Moving Aerospace to the 21st Century
“United Sciences has developed highly disruptive technologies that overcome the technical challenges of existing 3D scanners that are only capable of measuring exterior surfaces,” points out Kellett. Alongside aerospace and healthcare, the company’s core technologyserves various industries like automotive manufacturing. “Our scanning technology is applied to manufacturing processes where precise metrology, quality, and repeatability are important factors as our solution can create significant productivity gains.” United Sciences is a key disruptor in the aerospace industry as their unique capabilities and technology have managed to convince aircraft manufacturers to adopt new technologies, anticipating growth in their production line. Today, “We are slowly shifting our focus to sensor-camera software business—developing smarter software technologies while contracting hardware to manufacturers.” Catering to global customers, United Sciences is also planning to spread out across Europe and Asia.