The project started by developing safe, automated means of delivering tooling supplies internally within the Airbus factory in Broughton, Wales. However, this could be expanded rapidly, as benefits of using small, autonomous robotic vehicles are being noticed.

Amer Liaqat, technology manager for assembly innovation & development at Airbus UK, said: “This project has been Airbus’ first trial of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) on the shop floor. We have made a number of enhancements to the standard off-the-shelf technology to make it safe and suitable for our factory environment and are now setting benchmark for its roll-out to other Airbus sites worldwide.”

The project was initiated to fulfil Airbus’ vision of automating component handling, which involves significant amount of manual work due to the sheer size of the components and precision required during aircraft assembly. Automating this process may eliminate the non-value-added operations and give significant benefits to Airbus in terms of capacity and rate ramp-up.

“Doing small scale trials with this AMR has given us a good idea of the challenges involved in adapting this technology and the needs for future development work,” added Liaqat.

AMRC senior project engineer, Dr Lloyd Tinkler, said: “Supervised trials of the robots have already taken place and estimated that utilising them could save the whole time equivalent of one operator per shift in the current use case at Airbus, freeing time for the operators to work on highly-skilled tasks, ultimately improving shop floor productivity.

“This outcome has led to Airbus exploring opportunities where such robots could be used to optimise processes, including specially adapted versions to pull trolleys with aircraft parts and tooling already in use at the Airbus site.”