Many helicopter body components are made from carbon fibre composite sculptured surface-shaped parts. At present, Airbus Helicopters Canada Ltd. uses fibreglass fixtures to mechanically clamp the parts, and excess material is trimmed away manually by an operator. This is fatiguing, and the process is open to operator error leading to the scrapping of expensive parts. Airbus looked to Niagara College to develop 3D plastic-printed vacuum fixtures to hold the part so that a robotic trimming system can be used.
The 3D-printed vacuum now allows the operator to quickly and repeatedly locate the part on the fixture and with full vacuum applied, the part is held very securely, particularly near the trim edges. The fixture pose is constant with respect to the robotic coordinate system. After trimming, the procedure to release the part from the vacuum is equally ergonomic. The fixture is also lightweight, yet stiff enough to not be displaced during the trimming process.
Funding: Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) – Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).