Grupo MTorres has received an order from aircraft manufacturer Northrop Grumman for five 'Torresdrill' machine tool systems, which are high-technology precision drills for machining aircraft parts.

This automation order is for the customer's aircraft production facility at Palmdale, California (USA), and was won in competition against companies from the US, Canada, Germany and Switzerland, making it an important achievement for the technology developed by the MTorres group and a major step forward in increasing its exports to a rapidly expanding market.

The automated structure assembly system to be supplied by MTorres is a total system, which is integrated as part of the assembly process. “When it is completed, the production line at our Palmdale facility will be equipped with the most advanced manufacturing systems currently available in the world”, according to authorized Northrop sources. “We consider that the proposal made by MTorres offered superior solutions and technology. Its previous experience in the field of automated frame assembly and the success of MTorres in installing aircraft structure assembly systems, including drilling systems both in Northrop and in other manufacturers, contributed to the decision," the US company states. “It should be no surprise that we have been the first aircraft manufacturer to include numerically-controlled automatic drilling units in our assembly line, incorporated as part of the production line”.

In the selection process “the supplier that impressed us most from the list consulted, which included four US companies and Canadian, German, Swiss and Spanish firms, was MTorres, Diseños Industriales”. Although the MTorres machines will be manufactured in Spain the concept was the result of a combined effort by the companies’ design centers in Torres de Elorz (Navarre, Spain) and Santa Ana (California, USA), using Catia 5 and Delmia simulation programs to create a total solution incorporating all the elements required in a complete automated system for aircraft structures. “The safety, ergonomics, the entry and exit of parts through the system, the integration of the numerical controller into the assembly line and other features clearly demonstrated that MTorres had understood the demands and requirements of Northrop in order to create a total system", the manufacturer adds. “Apart from the clear ideas from MTorres, showing its understanding of the requirements of the project, the company's willingness to provide highly detailed information also indicated to us that it had understood the complexities associated with the project".

Things have moved quickly since the order was awarded, and MTorres is already part of Northrop's project agenda. On 20th September in Palmdale, MTorres presented other designs for tooling and transport, the preparation of foundations, system components and designed and detailed working agendas, in addition to the designs for five integrated stations. MTorres has also tested a number of drilling spindles and has made recommendations regarding the power and torque values needed to drill titanium that will be included in the finite element analysis and simulation models, to confirm the capacity of the system before starting the construction of an aircraft.

Technologies incorporated

Among the advanced elements in the design proposal put forward by MTorres are the following:

Advanced safety systems, including computerized ultrasound systems programmed to recognize elements that should be present around the machine, in order to avoid damage or impacts to unauthorized persons or objects.

Active fire prevention systems that are programmed to detect temperature increases before flames can appear in swarf collection tanks when working with titanium or metallic materials.

A MAN-MACHINE interface that provides the necessary elements to facilitate the correct drilling and riveting of the aircraft's structure, and also the coordination of the reports controller associated with the system.

A comprehensive system that incorporates a controller programmed to receive the components from the tool for the aircraft structure using an advanced vision system. This system calculates the position and coordinates and controls the machine, stores the results of all operations -identifying the assembly of the structure to a specific level of detail- and the continuous action of diagnostic monitors and recommended settings, maintenance and repair before they are necessary.

A monitoring system for the tool that actively checks (among other things) the use of the tool to maximize its use, detect breaks and pre-inspection. MTorres will program this system to detect tool breaks, using a process that moves the drilling head to a safe position so that a new tool can be inserted, finally returning to the previous drilling position or to the next cavity. The assembly cell is controlled and monitored through a fully functional programmed controller.

MTorres has a website that authorizes users to use one of the six cameras located in its workshop to observe the progress in the manufacture of the customer's system. Authorized users may also gain access to the project schedule, which is continuously updated, at any time of day throughout the week.