Technology Today

2015 Issue 1

Raytheon Missile Facility Modernized by Advanced Technologies

The Raytheon Redstone Missile Integration Facility (RRMIF) is a 55,000-square-foot manufacturing plant established in November of 2012 in Huntsville, Ala., for the production of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) and Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) interceptors, key components to the U.S. Navy’s air and missile defense capability. The facility stands unique in its extensive use of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and a host of automated systems designed to ensure the safe, accurate and reliable assembly of missiles.

Historically, missile production has been an arduous, manual process involving heavy components and energetics, which include propellants, explosives and pyrotechnics. Moving missile parts or the act of completing a missile from workstation to workstation (commonly referred to as “critical lifts”) could require as many as six or more persons to lift the assembled piece onto a stand and roll it on to the next position. With the introduction of AGVs, once inside the loading dock area, workers are no longer required to handle energetics or perform the physical tasks associated with the move. Instead, wireless communications are used to instruct a laser guided AGV to transfer the unit from station to station (see Figure 1). Movement of the hardware in this instance is completely automated by way of laser guidance that uses a series of emitters and receptor targets around the factory. As the AGV carries out the transport, a separate laser sensor continually monitors proximity to other objects or humans within a specified “safe” zone, and it will stop movement on the platform if anything should get too close.

Figure 1. An automatic guided vehicle transports missile parts between stations

Once at the programmed destination (see Figure 2), the AGV places the piece onto the workstation with slow, smooth movements. Here, further automation guides technicians in assembling the internal missile components. Work instructions are integrated into the automated system, which includes protocols to verify the technician’s training level for the task, checking part numbers and assembly requirements, and ensuring every part is in the correct position and every screw is tightened to the proper torque.

The innovative automation processes used at RRMIF were first developed at the Raytheon Integration and Test Facility (ITF) in Tucson, Ariz. Energetics is the main business of the assembly and test work performed at ITF and, for the first time ever, the ITF design team developed automation processes that met the strict safety requirements needed to handle energetics within a secure, closed-area environment. Overcoming the challenges presented to the automated manufacturing team required a collaborative partnership with environmental, health, safety and sustainability; security; and operations organizations. Machine communications and interaction protocols had to be met at a systems level to ensure interference from low-output lasers and wireless communications would not detonate or render inert energetics or cause unplanned AGV motion. Ergonomic standards had to be met to eliminate job-related hazards of repetitive motion or lifting. Developing a no-lift method of material movement also eliminated the opportunity for dropped hardware and the potential effect on energetics. Additionally, the team successfully used this automation to build a green facility to help minimize energy consumption. The facility used a small manufacturing footprint to maximize floor space utilization and digital communications and radio frequency identification systems to create a paper-free work environment. Partnering across Raytheon and with other automated manufacturing industry partners, and by employing the latest technological innovations, the manufacturing team created a new standard in the approach to energetics production.

Figure 2. Manufacturing engineers work on a Standard Missile.

Automation systems at RRMIF and ITF have reduced recurring production costs as well as costs associated with the transition to production. With these changes, Raytheon has brought modern manufacturing techniques to missile production, resulting in weapons that are safer to produce and more reliable.

Jeff Hidalgo

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