Original Date: 10/20/1997
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Best Practice : Laser Tracker Measurement System
The design, manufacturing, and implementation of precision tooling are expensive elements in the aircraft assembly process. In their continuous quest for process improvement, the F/A-18 team developed the Laser Tracker Measurement System by combining emerging measurement technology with commercial-off-the-shelf software. The system replaces the large, expensive master tool in the final assembly operation of the E/F program, allowing Northrop Grumman to minimize its master tool requirements and eliminate several labor-intensive, hand gage measurements.
Final alignment specifications are also a critical factor in the F/A-18 program. As a subcontractor, Northrop Grumman manufactures the aft center section of the F/A-18 E/F aircraft, and then ships the product to Boeing in St. Louis, Missouri for final assembly. To meet final specifications, Northrop Grumman relies on a portable laser tracker system from SMX and graphic interface software from Imageware Software, which can perform real-time measurements with an accuracy of 25 microns at 5 meters. The utilization of this system eliminated the need for an alignment tool, at a cost of $400 thousand, and decreased the initial measurement and recording times on each production unit from 2 hours to 30 minutes. In addition, this laser tracker process improves the assembly and engineering change order integration times, and allows mechanics to have great accessibility to the units.
An electronic database, containing 43 data points/surfaces, is also delivered with each production unit. The accuracy of this information has greatly contributed to a seamless integration process at the prime contractor’s location. Although it was originally developed for the E/F line, the Laser Tracker Measurement System can also be used on the C/D program because of its portability and efficiency.
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