Manufacturing 4.0: Transforming our factories
A range of technologies – such as connectivity between machines and objects, the "datafication" of production and operations, the real-time processing of large volumes of new information, robotics and human/machine interfaces, 3D printing and artificial intelligence – are impacting all aspects of the traditional industrial system, from production in its strictest sense through to control and logistics, and encompassing development and even team training. We bring you a guided tour of the applications at Safran that are ushering in the Manufacturing 4.0 era at our plants.
THE PRODUCTION LINE: MANUFACTURING 4.0, ALREADY A REALITY AT SAFRAN
Implementing disruptive new technologies to assist production does not mean having to build a new plant. Safran is demonstrating this by creating innovative production lines in its existing plants that are tasked with satisfying the requirements of the latest programs – using augmented reality systems, smart tools, touchscreens, robots, etc. These production lines are already accelerating production cycles, reducing costs and improving staff working conditions.
Such technologies can, for example, be found in Villaroche (Seine-et-Marne), a historic Safran Aircraft Engines site where LEAP engines are assembled on two "pulsed" production lines. These benefit from technologies such as a digital projection system for positioning equipment, while an exclusive patented system horizontally rotates the engine, avoiding the need for work at height.
In Bordes (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), Safran Helicopter Engines has created its first automated production line for turbine blades – from the raw cast component through to the finished item ready for integration into the engine.
A 50% time savings on the production of helicopter turbine blades in Bordes
Examples of this type of innovation abound, also including:
- the first moving line in the aeronautics sector, inaugurated in 2015 at Safran Nacelles in Le Havre (Seine-Maritime), for A320neo nacelles;
- the Safran Transmission Systems pinions line in Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine), redesigned for more linear workflows and the integration of innovations such as an autonomous production unit consisting of robot machining centers;
- new semi-automated production lines of drums and nozzle guide vanes at Safran Aero Boosters in Herstal (Belgium), in line with the flexible manufacturing system concept and including machining stations supplied by a distribution trolley;
- the LEAP assembly line in Villaroche and the new turbine blade manufacturing line in Bordes were awarded "Industry of the Future Showcase" certification in 2016 by the Alliance Industrie du Futur (an association combining professionals from industry and the digital sector), under the aegis of the French government. This certification rewards companies that have developed innovative projects for restructuring their production, including digital solutions in particular;
- the automated control of electrical cabinets at the Safran Electrical & Power site in Niort.
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY SERVING PEOPLE: NEW SKILLS IN A STREAMLINED ENVIRONMENT
Although humans remain vitally important to the operation of the Factory of the Future, there are changes to the way in which operator knowledge and skills are used in practice. Traditional interactions with the machine are being limited (e.g. via the use of "closed-door machining"), while cobots will be able to adapt increasingly to individual experience and know-how. In addition to the productivity gains enabled by technology, there are improvements to quality of life and safety at work: Ergonomics, real-time access to information, minimized handling requirements, repetitive tasks replaced by analysis and monitoring work, the investigation of solutions, etc. Such future-oriented skills are to be acquired through training and tutoring methods which are also being transformed by digital technology and virtual reality.
In France, nearly 850,000 people work in a mechanical industry, more than half of whom are laborers and technicians. Almost 90,000 of the latter group are at least 55 years old. This demographic reality, in common with the rapid evolution in the means of production, calls for new methods for training the operators and technicians of tomorrow. This is particularly true in an environment in which current training mechanisms are proving to be fragile, few and far between, and barely capable of meeting existing needs in trades such as adjustment, welding, machining, grinding and three-dimensional control.
Safran is a partner of CampusFab, a 2,500 m² training site located in Bondoufle (Essonne). This center provides training in modern industrial practices and skills (also referred to as the "factory of the future"), based on 5 key areas all strongly featuring digital technology:
- additive manufacturing,
- maintenance and production methods,
- digital studio with data and process control and analysis.
545,000 laborers and technicians in mechanical industries in France
OVERVIEW OF THE TECHNOLOGIES OF THE FUTURE
AUGMENTED REALITY: A SIXTH SENSE FOR OPERATORS?
Augmented-reality technologies consist of superimposing data and information in real time over an image of the existing reality, supplied to user either in the form of a screen or smart glasses.
When applied to the world of production, this innovation enriches operators' working environment, offering time savings and quality improvements. Artificial intelligence (especially in image processing) and connection to information systems provides a means of guiding physical actions; making it possible, for example, to view the action required at each stage of the process, flawlessly identifying the item of equipment to be worked on, changing angles to "see" a part that may be less visible, etc.
A FEW PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AT SAFRAN
Among the various projects underway within the Group, Safran Electrical & Power has developed two innovative solutions:
- a Connection Assistance and Control (ACE) system for joining cables to connectors, combining augmented reality (with the real-time display of information via a synchronized video feed) and automatic image processing to identify anomalies;
- a fault-finding tool designed with start-ups Diota and Win MS, which makes it possible to use a digital tablet to see and locate electrical faults through the walls of aircraft containing a large number of cables.
At Safran Nacelles, another augmented-reality solution has been developed with Diota to improve the non-destructive testing of composite panels. Once a robot has checked a part using infrared thermography, a software program notifies the inspector of the checks to be carried out, projecting any non-compliant areas directly onto the panel concerned (measuring from 3 to 12 m2).
CLOSED-DOOR MACHINING: ENABLING OPTIMAL USE OF INDUSTRIAL TOOLING
The concept of "closed-door machining" consists of equipping a production line with autonomous machines that are capable of sequencing continuous machining phases with a minimum of human intervention. Combining these processes with ad hoc supervision makes it possible to run the lines 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing better advance scheduling for workshop tasks and minimizing hazards for both staff and production items when handling parts and materials.
A FEW PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AT SAFRAN
In response to the increasingly demanding requirements of the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 programs, Safran Landing Systems has significantly increased its industrial performance through its implementation of closed-door machining at two sites:
- In the titanium workshop in Bidos (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), where large titanium components are machined. The 5,200 m2 building, which houses all the resources required for the independent production of components, has been able to halve its production cycles.
- At the Mirabel-Montreal (Canada) site specializing in main wing boxes for large landing gear, the new building has also halved its production cycles by bringing together its industrial resources and creating a fleet of digitally-programmed machines.
Similarly, the Safran Landing Systems plant in Molsheim (Bas-Rhin), which focuses mainly on manufacturing wheels and brakes for Airbus programs, is running 24/7 with a team of 10 staff. Since the adoption of closed-door machining, operators no longer need to intervene to make adjustments during the machining phase, which has increased the machines' time in use (6,500 hours per year instead of 4,000) and reduced machining cycles from 10 days to just 1 day.
With closed-door machining, operators' roles are changing: As skill levels rise, they are becoming managers of self-contained systems, capable of operating several machines at the same time. Thanks to the implementation of appropriate communication systems (large screens, tablets, etc.), operators can now focus mainly on high value-added supervision and control tasks while the machines operate autonomously.
COBOTICS: HUMANS AND MICHINES DELIVERING PERFORMANCE TOGETHER
The advantages of robotics applied to production lines (productivity, quality, flexibility, reduction of arduous tasks, improved ergonomics, etc.) are well known, and widely implemented in a large number of industrial sectors.
The Group has been using a number of robots for the past few decades. A new and promising area is emerging: "cobotics", or the use of collaborative robots. This innovation is of particular interest to aeronautics, a sector where human contributions to processes remain a decisive factor. Cobotics is a real-time approach that combines the abilities of a robot (strength, precision, repetition, etc.) with the specific skills of a human being (know-how, analysis, decision-making, etc.). The operator and the robotic system interact directly or remotely, via a remote control mechanism or an exoskeleton acting as an extension of the human body.
At Safran, cobotics and human/machine solutions have been the subject of an applied research program since 2014. Under this approach, a roboticist, a human factors specialist and a knowledge engineer have been developing cobot concepts that are being tested at the ArianeGroup to analyze their interaction with humans. At the same time, an industrial innovation workshop is testing cobots on several of the Group's already-operational production lines:
- At Safran Helicopter Engines in Buchelay (Yvelines), a robot arm is facilitating the process of handling and supplying machinery. Equipped with a clamp and a lifting hook with a 40 kg capacity, it is ultimately intended for use on all compatible workstations;
- In the workshops at Safran Reosc – a Safran Electronics & Defense subsidiary specializing in high-performance optics for astronomy and space – the robots' reliability and extreme precision is being exploited on a daily basis. Similarly, the Saint-Pierre-du-Perray (Essonne) center is using a dozen computer-controlled robots for polishing telescope mirrors to a precision of several nanometers.
The key to "zero defects"? The robots' precision and consistency is bringing reliability to the production process and at the same time simplifying quality monitoring work. For example, a robot checking CFM56 engines at Safran Aircraft Engines can consistently process more than 1,000 points in 20 minutes – an operation that previously took a single operator up to 4 hours (checking and photos for traceability).
NON-DESTRUCTIVE TESTING: MOVING TOWARDS SIMPLER, MORE RELIABLE QUALITY MONITORING
Non-destructive testing (NDT) operations play an essential role in verifying the quality of a part or component at each stage of its life cycle, during its manufacture and during maintenance operations.
A variety of techniques are used, depending on the specific case: Visual examination, penetrant testing, radiography, ultrasound, thermography, etc. A certified operator's input is required to analyze the results of the inspection and assess the conformity of the part in line with strict standards. Such operations can now be simplified and made more reliable with digital technologies (sensors and image processing) and their automated deployment on production lines.
A FEW PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AT SAFRAN
In particular, Safran has developed three innovative non-destructive testing processes:
- X-ray tomography coupled with 3D imaging, currently used in Commercy (Meuse) and Rochester (United States), for checking LEAP engine fan blades. Using tracers integrated into the composite material, the part is reconstructed in 3D, calibrated against a benchmark and analyzed by means of diagnostic assistance algorithms;
- Digital radiography at the production stage, used by Safran Aircraft Engines in Gennevilliers and Evry-Corbeil for checking LEAP engine parts (turbine blades, fan frame ferrules) and by Safran Helicopter Engines for checking engine components. This process, which replaces a method based on the use of silver films, combines radiographic testing with image processing algorithms;
- Infrared thermography on the internal composite panels of A320neo nacelles. Since 2017, a robotic solution has been acquiring data which are then analyzed by the operator using visualization software. Areas that require additional verification are projected directly onto the part concerned using augmented reality. This method replaces a long, complex technique based on ultrasound and water jets.
VIRTUAL REALITY: A NEW AGE FOR SIMULATING MOVEMENTS AND PROCESSES
Virtual reality is understood here to refer to multimedia devices that enable a user to immerse him/herself in a 3D computer-generated environment projected onto a screen or via dedicated headsets such as Oculus Rift – solutions that are well known to the general public.
The feeling of immersion is further enhanced by the user's ability to interact with this environment via not only visual and auditory but also haptic stimuli – that is, simulating the sensation of touch and "force feedback" (kinesthesia). In the industrial sector, these technologies are now finding applications at various points throughout the chain, making it possible to accurately anticipate actual future conditions – from the design of parts and products through to the ergonomic design of workstations, including operator training and coaching.
A FEW PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AT SAFRAN
The Safran Nacelles site in Le Havre has played a pioneering role in virtual reality within the Group. The launch of the A330neo program in 2014 required an acceleration of pace; and through the use of virtual reality, it was possible to develop the new nacelles in just 42 months (compared to 60 months for the A320neo nacelles). Safran Nacelles has now deployed this technology at several of its sites in France and further afield, in Burnley (United Kingdom), Casablanca (Morocco) and Paris-Saclay.
This digitalization method will be rolled out across the whole of Safran, opening the prospect of the introduction of virtual reality systems in each of the sites – opening up new horizons in terms of collaboration.
Other Group companies are already working in this area of innovation. For example, Safran Aircraft Engines has developed MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) training for a LEAP engine module. This specific training was implemented to enable a learning process for the replacement of turbine rings on the High Pressure modules of the LEAP engine during a shop visit. It provides training for mechanics in a virtual environment, overcoming the constraints related to the availability of physical parts and tooling in the workshop. Two learning modes are offered to promote the appropriation of the required actions: With and without assistance. In this way, training time has been reduced by 40%. Virtual reality training is facilitating the process of reviewing operations to be undertaken before a module arrives in the workshop. The training is available in several languages, enabling it to be offered to all of the shops in Safran's MRO network.
Optimizing maintenance performance and improving reactivity are important issues for Safran. That is why the Group is developing solutions and tools to predict any missteps or failures to be able to intervene as soon as possible.
A FEW PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AT SAFRAN
Predictive maintenance is a modern, industrial maintenance technique that uses data specific to each facility continuously in real time. It goes beyond simple monitoring of the state of facilities. Using continuous monitoring, it helps detect faint signals and identify the underlying causes. Safran is developing a solution that monitors, transports, stores, and analyzes data using an advanced algorithm that estimates lifespan before breakdown, making it possible to take action in advance consistent with a scheduled maintenance approach.
- Roll out tools
Safran is endeavoring to develop connected industrial maintenance tools.
- Remote maintenance which makes it possible to control the installation remotely
- Remote assistance which makes it possible to remotely guide an operator on site
- AR-assisted maintenance which makes it possible to superimpose virtual elements on the real world with a 3D model or with Mixed Reality (without 3D technology)
The goal of BIM (Building Information Modeling) is to obtain digital models of our plants to optimize the performance of the Facility Management and SSE teams. For our existing plants, BIM is structured into three stages. The first involves digitizing all production areas using a 3D scanner. The second stage is modeling, which consists of identifying each building construction element. And the last stage is to construct the complete digital model of the plant in 3D. This process makes it easier and faster to manage changes in the plant, such as redeveloping workshops and installing new machines. The solution also streamlines equipment maintenance and energy consumption monitoring. For our plants currently under construction, the goal is to have access to this model at the design stage, and to retain it during the plant operating phase.
ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING: A COPERNICAN REVOLUTION IN MACHINING
The advent of additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) is radically changing the situation. With conventional manufacturing methods, parts are obtained by subtraction of material, mainly during machining. Similarly to mass-market 3D printers, this new technology makes it possible to manufacture a part in successive layers, according to a digital model: The raw material (metallic powder, ceramic or polymer) is deposited on a work surface in layers of a thickness of 20 to 100 microns*, fused by a laser or an electron beam. This process has the advantage of speed and flexibility, in particular for producing or repairing parts on demand. It also provides the ability to produce complex geometries that cannot be obtained by subtraction in a single block.
A FEW PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AT SAFRAN
Used for several years in the Group's factories, additive manufacturing processes are developed by a specialized team of around twenty engineers at the Safran Additive Manufacturing Campus. Their mission is to conduct research (powders, metallurgy, control, numerical simulations, etc.), and to support Group companies in the design and certification of increasingly numerous and complex elements presenting the same level of reliability as their traditional equivalents. Among the parts already productionized:
- Fuel injectors and combustion chamber swirlers manufactured by selective laser fusion (SLM) for Arrano and Ardiden 3 turboshaft engines (Safran Helicopter Engines, Bordes);
- Most of the parts for the Saphir 4.2 auxiliary power generator (APU), obtained by laser fusion on a powder bed (Safran Power Units, Toulouse)
- The Leap 1A engine lubrication unit, manufactured by SLM (Safran Aero Boosters);
- Turbine casing equipment for the CFM56-7 (1,000 parts since January 2018) and LEAP-1B engines since March 2019. The Safran Aircraft Engines sites in Villaroche and Gennevilliers are already using additive manufacturing in their industrial processes: Two-component molds for lost-wax casting, manufacturing of small tools, rapid prototyping of tools to be tested before their metal machining.
THE ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING CAMPUS
The Additive Manufacturing Campus Plant at Le Haillan, near Bordeaux, is home to all of the Group's additive manufacturing resources and skills. This site will eventually employ around 200 people. The operational start-up of this 10,000 m² "campus plant" was in 2021, with optimal capacity to be reached by 2023. By bringing together research, development, prototyping and mass production of 3D parts at a single site, Safran is providing itself with the human resources (experts, designers and producers on the same site for a rapid skill ramp-up) and industrialists (latest generation of machines) to step up the pace in the field of additive manufacturing, which will significantly contribute to the improvement of its products.
DATA: A PERFORMANCE DRIVER
With the progressive digitization of tools and working methods, the aeronautics, space and defense sectors have access to a wealth of data recorded during product manufacturing.
Big Data analysis makes it possible to optimize the use of products, and improve the quality and value of the services provided. It is vitally important to implement a strategy of differentiation by creating cutting-edge services that will allow airlines to improve all facets of their operations. As part of its activities, Safran Analytics works closely with the Group's companies in 3 areas:
- The Data Services program: Using data to optimize service contracts and reduce risks;
- The Data Manufacturing program: Resolving issues in manufacturing;
- Lastly, the Safran Analytics teams are also working on the provision of tools and services (platform, training courses, personalized support, products and services related to data use) for all Safran employees.
Safran Analytics: 1 collaborative platform based at Safran's Paris-Saclay site – a multidisciplinary team comprising 60 employees, 15 products and services, and 80 ongoing projects
A FEW PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AT SAFRAN
The Safran Aircraft Engines industrial center of excellence for composite parts has enabled the consistent automatic collection of production data from fan blades and composite casings for the LEAP engine. Each new machine is connected to the plants' databases in order to provide all the product characteristics in real time (e.g. geometric data) and parameters associated with the manufacturing process (e.g. machine adjustments). These data points run into the thousands for each blade and casing, requiring the application of specific analysis methods to exploit this "big data". The teams of data scientists work in collaboration with our design engineering and methods offices to exploit this large quantity of data, exploring each step of the production process quantitatively and in depth – via Machine learning-type algorithms in particular – to optimize the process and form its digital twin.
SMART OBJECTS: NETWORKING
Wireless smart objects are connected to the Internet and provide additional value in terms of functionality, information, interaction with the environment or usage. These objects communicate with other smart systems (computers, tablets, smartphones, sensors, networks, etc.) in order to obtain or provide information. This is enabled by the extreme miniaturization of electronic components.
A FEW PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AT SAFRAN
At Safran Aircraft Engines, remote collaborative work is facilitated by the use of smart glasses. This system allows an operator, located on an industrial site and equipped with smart glasses, to communicate with an expert located at another Safran site or at a supplier. The operator is equipped with a pair of glasses equipped with a front camera and a system for delivering overlaid visual images. It also has a telephone connected via Wi-Fi to the glasses for the transmission of audio and video streams. This very light equipment enables the operator to work normally, dialogue with the expert and view overlaid information (images, plans, text) sent by the expert. The expert is equipped with a PC for viewing the same thing the operative is seeing, and an audio headset. This enables them to share information to guide the operative and send the information required for the task they need to perform. This system lends itself to technical discussions, remote training and maintenance between our sites located around the world.
DIGITAL CONTINUITY: MONITORING PERFORMANCE
Digital continuity is the ability to access all data for a product, system or infrastructure throughout the various processes that constitute its lifespan: Develop – Manufacture – Maintain in Operational Service.
Engineering 4.0 is a multidisciplinary study of various industrial projects that spans economic, technological, human and financial aspects. It requires a consolidated working approach that co-ordinates the efforts and results of several teams of specialists, known as the development process.
The goal is to design and prepare for the production of components and assemblies which will have the performance expected by customers and the necessary levels of approval and certification required for our aeronautical applications, while responding to the Group's financial and human constraints. An effective development requires setting up simultaneous engineering, which consists of enabling all the specialists to work together. To do this, they must continuously share the same vision for the product under development, and constantly enrich this vision of the changes to be made in the light of their expertise in their own profession, while allowing specialists from other professions to assess the consequences of these developments.
Digital technologies thus make it possible to achieve efficiency gains in each of these professions (systems engineering, design, simulations, manufacturing and service engineering), both by digitizing business data and by automated processing. requiring no manual intervention by a professional specialist. This leaves each specialist free to focus on the most important decisions they need to make.
In order to digitally monitor changes in these products, we use two models, known as "digital twins": The theoretical model that represents a configuration ("as designed"), and the representative model of the specific manufactured product ("as built"). The coexistence of these two models makes it possible to envisage industrial applications which all have the goal of simulating industrial situations before implementing them, with the outcome of greater efficiency and time savings in implementation or in checking.
Digital continuity is delivered by a consistent set of connected systems: Manufacturing 4.0 management tools working to the nearest day (PLM and ERP), hour (MES), minute or second (MCS) and resulting in Digital Twins
- PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) and MEDS (Manufacturing Engineering Data System) provide the product and process reference system from the design and production engineering phases
- ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) is the reference system used by production management systems to organize means and resources in order to meet customer demand.
- the MES (Manufacturing Execution System) acts as an interface, and enables the producer (a) to identify the technical and management repository to be applied and (b) to send production data back to the information systems
- the MCS (Manufacturing Control System) is a connection platform for all tools and machines in the workshop and enables data to be collected and shared in a secure space.
The transformation of our factories involves technologies that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. The result of this transformation is a factory redesigned for, and around, people in an optimized work environment where operators can focus on high added-value tasks. It is also a factory with reduced development cycles, increased responsiveness, productivity gains and increased quality control to meet our customers' new requirements.
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