Automating the aerospace sector
To assist with the development of an automated masking system for a leading UK aerospace company, automation solution provider Astech Projects turned to adhesives and coatings specialist Intertronics.
Astech Projects, part of Schauenburg International group of companies, is a supplier of robotics and automation solutions to the advanced manufacturing and regulated industries including pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer healthcare, chemical, aerospace and automotive. The company builds systems from concept to completion on a custom basis, turning its hand to any application not currently available in the market.
“A leading UK aerospace company commissioned us to build a bespoke automated masking system to mask complex areas of aircraft components to avoid precious metal coverage during the manufacturing process,” explained Craig Hamilton, business development manager at Astech Projects. “The system was required to have the capability to mask 14 component variants, while offering the functionality to add additional variants in the future.
“While masking and coating is a common application, automating it is not,” continued Hamilton. “Astech aimed to increase throughput, accuracy and masking quality by building the bespoke automated system, benefitting from the expertise of adhesive and coating specialist, Intertronics.”
Intertronics had already established that its Dymax 717-R SpeedMask resin product would effectively protect the precious metal during the manufacturing process and was therefore an appropriate choice. “Once the masking resin had been selected, Intertronics worked with the client to establish the success of the preeflow eco-PEN450 as a dispensing mechanism,” explained Matthew Baseley, technical sales office supervisor at Intertronics.
“The system was chosen because of its high accuracy: it gives a value greater than ±1%, 99% of the time. The system also has no fluctuation in the volume of resin dispensed with any change in viscosity,” he continued. “By working with the client, Intertronics established that this was an appropriate dispensing technique for the application.
“So that the curing process could be fully automated with a high throughput, Intertronics also supplied the appropriate curing equipment including high-intensity UV lamps,” added Baseley. “This enables the resin to be cured quickly, in the range of 20 to 30 seconds.”
Intertronics made its dispensing and curing equipment available to Astech for use at its Cheshire facility, thus enabling Astech to complete two further proof of concepts projects, prior to finalising the design for the automated system. To support Astech, Paul Whitehead and Matthew Baseley from Intertronics visited the facility. Once the solution was tested and proven to be successful, Astech purchased the required coating, curing and dispensing equipment from Intertronics.
The fully automated system incorporates a 3-axis cartesian robot and two 6-axis robots working in synchrony according to one robot program. It also includes a high-definition vision system, masking dispensing system and UV curing station. On a batch-by-batch basis, the system can correctly identify and orientate 14 types of part against the preeflow eco-PEN450, which accurately dispenses the Dymax 717-R SpeedMask product. The part is then taken to a curing chamber, where it is illuminated with high intensity UV. Once the process is complete, the component is returned to its original input location. The process repeats itself until the entire batch of components has been processed.
“The main drivers behind the project were to accurately and repeatably mask the component,” said Baseley. “The final result dispenses to an accuracy of 100 microns, a great achievement. Astech Projects’ bespoke system offers the client a significant labour saving and increases throughput with the client now channelling 60% of its components through the system.”
“There is great potential in the market for Astech to build automated systems for masking and coating applications,” explained Hamilton. “For example, medical devices, electronics and aerospace industries regularly use a masking process. We are now looking at other applications with the same client and its parent company, as well as with Intertronics.
“Intertronics is an extremely knowledgeable company, providing Astech with vital coatings expertise. Intertronics was a great partner for this project and we look forward to working together in the future,” concluded Hamilton.
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