Robots move into Cannes clean rooms!
They could well be the stars of a new science fiction film, with metallic arms like Robocop's! But in fact these are very real industrial robots, now being deployed by Thales Alenia Space. The clean rooms at the company's Cannes plant will welcome robots starting in the second half of the year.
"Tomorrow's factory" to meet new market expectations
The space sector is undergoing deep changes. Reflecting revolutionary new projects, such as the OneWeb low orbit telecom mega-constellation, a new era in technology is also taking shape. Manufacturers are therefore rethinking their production systems, by integrating key aspects such as innovation, competitiveness, "mass production", and increasingly tight deadlines. In line with this trend, Thales Alenia Space recently presented one of the main aspects of its "tomorrow's factory" initiative, namely incorporating new technologies, especially robotics and cobotics (collaborative robotics, meaning robots working closely with humans).
The Saphir project, developed in collaboration with the companies AKEO+ and KUKA, will be deployed in Thales Alenia Space's clean rooms starting in the second half of 2015. This particular application is designed to automate the installation of inserts in the panels used to build telecom satellites. The system is based on a workstation with two robotic arms, one to prepare the work, the other to install the inserts. It allows a considerable reduction in the time needed to bond the 3,000 inserts per panel, while also leveraging the production expertise of the people involved. Time savings are impressive, since what took four persons three weeks now takes one person one week! In addition to improving reliability and reducing cycle time and costs, this method will also eliminate repetitive, relatively arduous manual operations.
Watch a video of the Saphir project
Cobots: gentlemen robots
What's a cobot? In fact, it's a contraction of the two words, robot and collaborative. What this means in practice is industrial robots than can interact with operators in complete safety. The upshot is greater productivity and flexibility. Both intelligent and "attentive", they blend perfectly into the operator's work environment.
At Thales Alenia Space, this process is based on the use of a fixed cobotics arm attached to another arm mounted on an autonomous vehicle. This cobot process was conceived in partnership with the École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts et Métiers ParisTech engineering school in Lille, AKEO+ and KUKA. Fitted with sensors, the cobotics arm can detect the presence of obstacles or people, and stop moving on its own. It is fast, efficient and intuitive; for example, guided by an operator's hand, it can carry very heavy loads. The cobot is programmed to carry out various specific, often repetitive tasks. It interacts perfectly with the operator (who can start or stop a movement at will, with a simple touch of the hand), while also taking over certain arduous and time-intensive tasks.
When science fiction becomes a reality
Derived from models used in the aircraft industry, robots and cobots will help anticipate requirements from space operators, including the latest players, while also addressing their expectations in terms of competitiveness, scheduling and flexibility.
"Faster, less expensive, state-of-the-art…". Thales Alenia Space is on track to meet the latest requirements of a Telcom market that is evolving very fast!
"In certain cases, robots can assemble components in six hours that used to take a week." Jean-Loïc Galle, President and CEO of Thales Alenia Space (at SATELLITE 2015, March 2015)