There are over 25,000 exposed fasteners on the F-35 Lightning It. Each of them must be covered with a thermoplastic smoothing material in order for the aircraft to meet critical performance requirements. The material is applied using a hot iron tool, which heats it until soft enough to manipulate into the area between the recessed fastener head and the outer mold line of the aircraft. Excess material is skived off using the same hot iron tool and the filled fastener is inspected for any missing material large enough to effect the aerodynamic properties.
This process is not ergonomic, as well as inconsistent from both an application and inspection stand point. Manufacturing Technology is working to automate the fastener fill process using collaborative robots, which mimic the human process of installing and skiving the material. Each robot will use force sensors embedded within each joint to maintain the proper amount of force on the part and removing variability from the manual fastener fill process. An automated inspection system is being developed which can identify missing material within each fill and drive the robot for performing repair operations. While still in development, the initial testing on non-contoured surfaces have been successful.
- Highlight flat development
- Highlight contoured development
- Simulation work and work cell design