Arizona, US: Raytheon Missile Systems’ IoT upgrade of its imaging, research, testing and manufacturing facilities in Tucson has been more than five years in the making.
At its Immersive Design Centre, electrical, industrial, mechanical, and thermal engineers collaborate with senior assemblers and testers from the factory floor. In the Fusion factory is where robotic technology is greatly reducing testing time, and the shop floor is where robots collaborate with workers on tasks.
In the missile plant’s ‘Hotshot’ building, the final assembly of the Small Diameter Bomb II and the Griffin and Stinger missiles is performed by workers. The individual projects they’re working on are differentiated by colour-coded rings. There, the adjustable heights of the work stations cater to the workers’ needs, preventing ergonomic injuries.
Moving of objects from one work station to another is handled by automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in the plant, so that workers can avoid heavy lifting. These robots are about 3.66 m long and weigh about 226.8 kg. When faced with obstruction, they are able to stop automatically. Communication with the AGVs is taken care of by wireless routers connected to the ceiling.
The centrepiece of the missile plant’s Immersive Design Centre—the CAVE—features missiles and factory layouts which are 3D-simulated, and virtual reality gear is used.
“We moved this facility to the middle of our manufacturing hub, and actually do a lot of work in here on how we get a product through the design stage and into manufacturing,” said Bob Erickson, advanced manufacturing director at Raytheon Missile Systems.
He added: “We want to create a strong visual effect where people can come in and design, iterate and collaborate, so we can measure 50 times in here and cut once.”
In Raytheon’s Space Factory, technicians are tasked to inspect products such as the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle—a device which travels through space tracking and then attacking enemy missiles.
There, robotic arms are also deployed for jobs such as moving a missile seeker towards a test chamber, as well as placing a Small Diameter Bomb II guidance section into a test cell. These robotic arms are typically utilised by the company’s factory engineers, for jobs like moving a small satellite to a new location in the factory.
Robotic arms are also used to work on components such as the tri-mode seeker—part of the Raytheon’s Small Diameter Bomb II. The seeker enables a bomb to track moving targets under low-visibility conditions, including darkness, poor weather, and smoke and dust on the battlefield. The use of a combination of radar, infrared, and Lidar to track targets gives the device its name—tri-mode.
Moving of components can also be achieved using the robotic arms—for example, the small satellite. These “disposable” satellites are designed to stay lower in Earth’s orbit for less than a year, and would eventually burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.