Figure 1: Robots are working hand-in-machine with Raytheon engineers to build powerful radars for U.S. and allied militaries

Robotics in the Factory

Robots are changing manufacturing. And at Raytheon, robots are playing a key role in the development, optimization and proliferation of advanced manufacturing technologies across the enterprise. Advances in infrastructure, high technology production facilities and factory automation combine to drive productivity improvements and facilitate growth. This article discusses the fundamentals of these manufacturing advancements and the significant role robotics technology plays in Raytheon manufacturing automation.

Robots have a significant impact on today’s manufacturing processes. Assembly automation can incorporate both vision systems and force sensing. As an example, vision can guide a robot to pick up a component from a conveyor, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for precise location. Visual sensing gives a robot the ability to rotate or translate one piece, fitting it with another piece. Force sensing is used in part assembly operations like insertion, giving the robot controller feedback on how well parts are going together or how much force is being applied. Together, these sensing technologies make an automated production line cost effective for even relatively short production runs. As depicted in Figure 1, robots are often used to perform duties that are dangerous, or unsuitable for human workers, such as repetitious work that could lead to injuries due to poor ergonomics. The assembly robot shown has the flexibility built into the design to handle variants of a product family, even from cycle to cycle, when equipped with vision and/or other sensors, and it is quickly and inexpensively reconfigured with product design changes.

Three distinct types of robots, industrial, collaborative and material handling, have become key to achieving higher efficiencies and quality across all Raytheon manufacturing sites.

Industrial robots are automated, programmable and capable of movement on two or more axes. They can be programmed to perform dangerous, difficult and/or repetitive tasks with reduced waste and consistent precision and accuracy. In Figure 2, a robot utilizing an end of arm tooling (EOAT) attachment can hold and manipulate either the tool being used in the process or the piece being worked on in the process. In this ‘dual-robotic’ configuration, the smaller robot controlling the EOAT attachment is mounted on top of a tray, which is attached to a larger robot for movement and positioning. The dual robot solution provides a smaller footprint of manufacturing space. The larger robot allows flexible autonomous installation at large envelopes while the smaller robot provides the high precision of assembly.

Figure 2: A ˝dual robotic˝ system for radar array assembly

Collaborative robots (Cobots) enable rapid deployment and provide the flexibility necessary to allow Raytheon engineers to integrate robotic functionality across multiple product lines and applications. These robots execute tasks (Figure 3), operating side by side with their human counterparts, without a need for additional safety devices. Based on proven sensor technology, the force sensors and safe contact stops are able to immediately halt a collaborative robot’s current task whenever the possibility of collision with a human person or fixed object is detected. Operators can guide the robot and/or train it to assist in assembly, pick & place, adhesive application, verification, machine tending, and material manipulation. Collaborative robots allow the user to work cooperatively with the system, increasing operator productivity and product quality while reducing waste.

Figure 3: A collaborative robot works side by side on a workstation with an operator to complete a component build

Material handling robots or Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are portable robots that utilize vision, magnets and/or lasers for navigation. AGVs are used to consistently and predictably transport material loads in areas that might otherwise be serviced by fork lifts, conveyors or manual cart transport. They are particularly useful where high volumes of repetitive movements of material are required, but where little or no human decision making is needed to perform the movement. AGVs assist in material handling logistics to optimize the flow of materials within production systems that focus on the reliability, traceability and efficiency of moving product (Figure 4). Raytheon employs two types of AGVs within its manufacturing facilities, autonomous navigation and laser navigation. Both are integrated into the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems for a fully integrated automation solution.

Autonomous navigation AGVs have built-in sensors, cameras and sophisticated software. These autonomous robots can identify their surroundings and take the most efficient route to their destination, safely avoiding obstacles and people. Without the need to alter the facility with expensive, inflexible wires or sensors, autonomous robots can safely maneuver around people and obstacles, through doorways, and in and out of elevators.

Figure 4: An Operations Engineer programs an automated guided vehicle to bring parts and tools to a robotic arm that helps build radars in Raytheon’s new state-of-the-art radar development facility

Laser navigation AGVs have many tons of load capacity and can pick up a radar which is sitting on a mobilizer, a structure that interfaces with the AGV. The laser navigation AGV locks into the mobilizer and uses laser navigation throughout the facility to navigate autonomously and position itself within 3 millimeters of its target in just minutes. Historically, arrays were placed on air pallets that required precision and accuracy performed by human hand, utilizing lasers. That effort took days to complete and now, through automation, takes just minutes to complete, with significant cycle time reduction, increased repeatability, and minimal support.

In addition to internally developed technologies, Raytheon leverages advancements in the commercial sector. One of these opportunities is Manufacturing USA,® an initiative of the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (AMNPO) that connects people, ideas and technology across manufacturing, government and academia. As a member of the Advanced Robotics in Manufacturing (ARM) institute of Manufacturing USA, Raytheon’s engineers connect with public-private partnerships to support promising early stage research to propel new products to market. A key objective in these partnerships is to identify gaps in robotic applications within the commercial industry and develop solutions utilizing cross business and cross functional teams.

Raytheon and partners, QinetiQ North America, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MassRobotics and General Electric were awarded one of the eight projects from the ARM Fall 2017 technology project, a Robot-Assisted Wire Harness Installation. This project centers on empowering human workers and reducing risk of injury in manufacturing environments through the development of a robot-assisted wire harness installation system. The system will augment human cognitive and physical abilities while eliminating errors and focusing on worker assist, rather than worker replacement. The project will engage a twin arm robot to hold, route and position a wire harness while using eye-safe laser pointers to indicate correct wire to terminal and connector pair locations. In addition to the technology advancement, the project will also feature a workforce development aspect that includes the creation of a training course for the new technology.

Raytheon understands the need to continually expand production automation capabilities, from initial engineering design through improvements to the speed and quality of its manufacturing processes. Robotics help establish a collaborative integrated system, assimilating with advances in information technology as well as modern manufacturing techniques, in order to automate the manufacturing infrastructure to achieve cycle time reductions and improved safety, quality and repeatability.

— Kristen Stone, David Micel, Jayson Diaz & Blair Simons