Aerospace giant BAE Systems has opened a first-of-its-kind, digitally connected Industry 4.0 factory in Lancashire for the production of future military aircraft.
Based at the company’s site in Warton, the factory will apply the latest digital technologies to advance manufacturing on its next-generation combat aircraft system, Tempest.
The facility brings together a range of advanced manufacturing technologies. Automated robots and virtual and augmented reality are being used to increase speed, precision and efficiencies, as well as reduce the costs associated with the manufacture of complex aircraft structures.
The way human staff and machines operate together is being transformed through the use of ‘cobotic’ and flexible robotic technologies, which remove the need for heavy, fixed, long-lead tooling and can quickly switch from one item to another. ‘Pick by light’ technology is able to recognise different operators and automatically deliver tailored instructions.
Intelligent machines and off-the-shelf robotic technology from the automotive industry are also being used to operate at the precise tolerances required for military aircraft, which can be less than a third of the width of a human hair.
The range of technologies being used allows operators to focus on more highly-skilled and strategic tasks, while production managers can oversee operations from a fully digitised virtual office.
More than 40 blue chip, SMEs and academic institutions collaborated with BAE Systems to develop the facility.
Dave Holmes, Manufacturing Director for BAE Systems Air, said:
“We’ve collaborated with the best of UK industry and academia to develop a cutting-edge facility that combines current and emerging technologies, ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of combat air technology development.
“Driving our manufacturing capabilities forward as we prepare for the fourth Industrial Revolution will sustain and develop critical skillsets and ensure we can continue to deliver military capability to address future threats, whilst improving productivity and delivering value for money for our customers.”
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