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Order for F-35 fighter assembly line is KUKA Systems North America's largest aerospace contract

A contract from Northrop Grumman Corp worth over $100 million for installation of an integrated assembly line for the F-35 Lightning II jet fighter program is the largest ever received by the aerospace division of Sterling Heights/MI-based KUKA System North America.

It's also believed to be the first time a major aerospace manufacturer has contracted with a vendor to supply and install a complete assembly line and underscores how major aerospace companies are embracing large-scale automation.

The line, designed by the four-year-old aerospace division of KUKA Systems North America in Clinton Township, MI, in close collaboration with Northrup Grumman's engineering staff, will be installed between 2010 and 2014, and enable Northrop Grumman to achieve a production rate of one center fuselage per day for the F-35 program. The US Department of Defense is committed to acquiring more than 2,400 F-35s in three variants: the F-35A for conventional land-based operations, F-35B with short takeoff and vertical landing capability and F-35C for carrier-based operations. Several countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands, are contributing development funds towards the estimated $40-billion cost of the project. Lockheed Martin Corp is prime contractor and Northrop Grumman a major partner.

KUKA Systems' contract covers the supply, installation and commissioning of all assembly tooling and equipment to manufacture the F-35 center fuselage. That's over 500 tools required for 78 tool positions occupying 200,000 sq ft of floor space. KUKA Systems is supplying some of its own KUKA Aerospace automation tools and solutions as well as KUKA robots, the most widely used in the aerospace industry. The company also will be sourcing equipment from some of Northrop Grumman's regular suppliers on the US West Coast and regular KUKA Systems vendors, particularly in Michigan.

When completed, the center fuselage assembly line will represent the culmination of many person years of development by KUKA Systems and Northrup Grumman, working collaboratively, to design and install an aircraft manufacturing line as a fully optimized system rather than as a conglomeration of independent tooling stations. "The contribution of Northrup Grumman's extremely talented, dedicated team, working with our own great group, has been instrumental in making this concept and design a reality," says Robert Reno, Director Aerospace, KUKA Systems North America.

The contract leverages KUKA Systems' considerable expertise as a leading automation supplier and systems integrator for the automotive industry. "No major aerospace company has ever really contracted a supplier like us to design and build an entire integrated assembly line," says Reno. Typically large aerospace manufacturers are their own integrators, bidding specific parts of the assembly line from different suppliers and then integrating them. "In this case, Northrop Grumman wanted the most efficient process design layout to produce one center fuselage per day and sought out our expertise in automation," says Reno. "

This really is a significant step for the industry, but for KUKA Systems, it's just one of many integrated automation solutions we're developing for improving the productivity and efficiency of aircraft manufacturing."

Press release issued by KUKA Aero on November 9, 2009

 

 Contact details from our directory:
Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems Airframer
KUKA Aero Industrial Robots, Tooling

 

 Related aircraft programs:
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

 

 Related directory sectors:
Tooling
Computer Integrated Manufacturing
Airframe Assemblies

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