McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Corporation Automated Aircraft Fuselage and Wing Alignment System
  • Problem:

The Douglas Aircraft Company needed to implement a more efficient and precise method of aligning fuselage and wing components during the assembly of the Air Force C-17 Transport. In addition, they needed a means of documenting all tolerance measurements observed during assembly for quality assurance purposes. These processes were previously performed manually, were labor intensive, and required a significant amount of time to complete.

  • Task:

To develop an automated system capable of precision alignment of large fuselage and wing structures that would provide a complete documented record of the assembly tolerances.

  • Solution:

Research Technologies conceived the design for a proprietary system using lasers, laser targets, and proximity sensors linked to a computer control station. Working in concert with other team members who produced the tooling fixtures and computer control station, Research Technologies designed and fabricated the lasers, targets, and proximity sensors. Airframe alignment was performed using a position feedback system with information obtained from laser targets and proximity sensors at critical join points.

Alignment lasers with rotating beams were located in multi-axis orientations on the airframe. The laser targets interpret their position relative to the flat plane of the laser beam, and this data was fed to the computer control console that provided positioning control and precise real time position data for all airframe components during assembly.
The advantages of this system over assembly methods previously used were:

REDUCED ASSEMBLY TIME from 4 hours to approximately 15 minutes, while improving alignment accuracy.

AUTOMATIC DOCUMENTATION - A precise and complete technical history of each assembly was automatically recorded.

NATURAL ALIGNMENT - The Alignment reference plane was based on the earth?s gravity rather than ?fixed positions? that constantly need adjustment.

AUTOMATIC POSITIONING allowed a quick setup or alternatively, each position location was individually addressable, enabling "on the fly" best fit analysis and testing of individual airframe component.