(19)
(11)EP 3 210 758 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
11.12.2019 Bulletin 2019/50

(21)Application number: 16157120.3

(22)Date of filing:  24.02.2016
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
B33Y 80/00(2015.01)

(54)

METHOD OF INSTALLING A FIXTURE

VERFAHREN ZUR INSTALLATION EINER BEFESTIGUNGSVORRICHTUNG

PROCÉDÉ D'INSTALLATION D'UN ÉLÉMENT DE FIXATION


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(43)Date of publication of application:
30.08.2017 Bulletin 2017/35

(73)Proprietor: Airbus Operations GmbH
21129 Hamburg (DE)

(72)Inventors:
  • GOEHLICH, Robert Alexander
    21129 Hamburg (DE)
  • HIRABAYASHI, Daisuke
    Tokyo 181-0015 (JP)
  • HOSHI, Hikaru
    Tokyo 181-0015 (JP)

(74)Representative: Isarpatent 
Patent- und Rechtsanwälte Behnisch Barth Charles Hassa Peckmann & Partner mbB Friedrichstrasse 31
80801 München
80801 München (DE)


(56)References cited: : 
EP-A1- 2 813 432
WO-A2-02/073324
US-B2- 9 156 240
WO-A1-2013/173742
US-A1- 2013 295 338
  
      
    Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


    Description


    [0001] The present invention relates to a method of installing a fixture, such as a bracket, on a body structure of a vehicle, particularly a body or fuselage structure of an aircraft or spacecraft, for mounting or attaching one or more items or systems with respect to that structure.

    [0002] It will be noted that the term "spacecraft" as used herein includes satellites and space station modules, as well as rockets and rocket modules, spaceships, or parts thereof.

    [0003] The installation of items and/or systems, such as electrical systems with conduits and cables, in nautical, aeronautical or automotive applications typically involves the use of mounting fixtures or brackets which need to be secured to a structure (e.g., vehicle chassis or hull structure) for then supporting those systems. Conventionally, these fixtures are secured to the structure via fasteners, such as rivets, clips or screws, or via an adhesive.

    [0004] Some disadvantages of mechanical fasteners, like rivets and screws, include that the fixture or bracket requires bores for the fasteners, that the fixture needs to be positioned with respect to the bores, and that it requires a fastening operation to then secure the fasteners. Depending on the particular application, the fixture or bracket may also then need to be sealed around the fasteners and bores. These steps naturally involve process costs. Disadvantages of adhesive attachment include that both the fixture or bracket and the attachment surface may require pre-treatment, like roughening and/or degreasing, and that an adhesive application operation is needed, then followed by operations to position and mount the fixture or bracket under application of pressure. These steps again involve process costs.

    [0005] It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a new and improved method or technique for overcoming one or more of the problems discussed above. In particular, it would be useful to provide a new method of installing a fixture or bracket in or on a structure of an aircraft or spacecraft, so that a faster or more economical procedure may be realized. Significant advances have been made in these respects by the present applicant, as described in published European patent application EP 2 813 432 A1. Nevertheless, it remains a goal to further develop and optimise such techniques.

    [0006] US 9 156 240 B2 describes a method of reworking an area of a composite laminate structure by scarfing the area, generating a 3-D map of the scarfed area, and installing a rework patch that is built based on the 3-D map.

    [0007] It would thus be useful to provide a new and improved method of installing a fixture or bracket in or on a structure of an aircraft or spacecraft which improves production efficiency and work-flows. It would further be desirable to provide a new and improved apparatus for installing such a fixture or bracket in or on a structure of an aircraft or spacecraft.

    [0008] In accordance with this invention, methods of installing a fixture as recited in claims 1 and 3 are provided, especially for mounting or attaching one or more items or systems with respect to the structure in nautical, in aeronautical, and/or in automotive applications. Preferred features are recited in the dependent claims.

    [0009] According to one aspect, therefore, the invention provides a method of installing a fixture, such as a bracket, in or on a structure of a vehicle, such as a body or fuselage structure of an aircraft or spacecraft, comprising the steps of:

    arranging an apparatus in, on or adjacent the structure;

    pre-treating a surface region of the structure by heat ablation using the apparatus; and

    forming the fixture in situ on the structure at the pre-treated surface region based upon a digital model of the fixture using the apparatus, wherein the fixture is installed by connecting the fixture to the structure at the pre-treated surface region as the fixture is formed.



    [0010] In this way, the installation of the fixture, including pre-treatment of the surface region of the structure at which the fixture is installed, may essentially occur automatically via the apparatus arranged in, on or adjacent to that structure. Thus, the method provides maximum flexibility in the fuselage assembly procedure and does not require separate or external manufacture of individual fixtures or brackets. Pre-treating the surface region of the structure by heat ablation is able to remove any residues or impurities on the surface that may otherwise interfere with or compromise the connection of the fixture to the structure as it is formed. For example, if the structure comprises fibre-reinforced polymer composite, such as CFRP, the ablation may effectively remove any residues of peel-plies, release films or mould release agents. Also, pre-treating via ablation may somewhat roughen the surface region for improved or enhanced connection of the fixture thereto.

    [0011] There is also no need for any inventory of spare parts, as the fixtures are created directly from the digital model during installation. Similarly, there is no need for non-flying parts, e.g., which may be required to fix a bracket on the structure during a curing process but which are then later removed. Further, the design of the fixture encompasses a range of variants and can be readily adapted as design parameters change.

    [0012] According to an example, the step of forming the fixture in situ on the structure includes providing or creating a three-dimensional digital model of the fixture; arranging a head of an additive manufacturing apparatus in, on or adjacent the structure; and forming the fixture in situ on the structure with or via the head of the additive manufacturing apparatus based upon the digital model of the fixture.

    [0013] According to an example, the step of forming the fixture in situ in or on the structure comprises building the fixture by sequentially generating and/or by building up layers of the fixture via the head of the additive manufacturing device. In this regard, the layers of the fixture may be sequentially deposited on the structure, such that the fixture is able to be built up from these layers to its final three-dimensional form based on the digital model. Accordingly, in a preferred embodiment, the step of connecting the fixture to the body or structure comprises one or more of the layers of the fixture being bonded or fused to the fuselage structure as it or they are generated and/or deposited on the vehicle structure. Alternatively, or in addition, the one or more layers of the fixture may be bonded or fused to the fuselage structure in a curing step that follows after the layers have been generated and/or deposited on the vehicle structure.

    [0014] According to an example, the step of bonding of the fixture to the structure includes depositing one or more layers or regions of adhesive on the structure to which the fixture is to be connected. The depositing of the layer(s) or region(s) of adhesive preferably occurs before generating and building up layers of the fixture on the structure.

    [0015] According to an example, the step of connecting the fixture to the structure may include forming the fixture in a mechanical fit or a mechanical engagement or connection with part of the structure. Indeed, the step of connecting the fixture to the structure may also comprise a combination of bonding or fusing, together with a mechanical engagement or connection.

    [0016] According to an example, the digital model of the fixture includes data on an intended position of the fixture within structure, and the step of pre-treating the surface region of the structure includes positioning a head of the ablation device adjacent the structure based on the digital model of the fixture. In this regard, the structure may optionally include one or more reference markers for spatial correlation to reference points in the digital model of the fixture. One or more sensors may be provided for detecting and identifying the reference markers and then positioning the head of the ablation device based upon the reference markers detected and identified.

    [0017] According to one alternative of the invention, pre-treating the surface region of the structure by ablation comprises laser ablating the surface region via a laser ablation device. Thus, the step of laser ablating the surface region preferably includes one or more of: generating a laser beam; positioning a head of the laser ablation device at a predetermined spacing from the structure; focusing the laser beam onto the surface region of the structure; and/or moving the laser beam over the surface region at a predetermined spacing from the structure. The processing time for the surface pre-treatment will typically be dependent on the thickness and amount of contamination on the surface. The intensity of the laser, and thus strength of the surface treatment is adjusted via the focal length of the laser. Accordingly, if the focal length is short, the laser intensity is increased, and if the focal length is long, the laser intensity is reduced.

    [0018] According to another alternative of the invention, pre-treating the surface region of the structure includes plasma ablating the surface region via a plasma ablation device. Thus, the step of plasma ablating the surface region comprises one or more of: generating a plasma stream; positioning a head of a plasma ablation device at a predetermined spacing from the structure; focusing the plasma stream onto the surface region of the structure; and moving the plasma stream over the surface region at a desired or predetermined spacing from the structure. Again, process time of the pre-treating step will depend on a thickness and amount of contamination, and the strength or intensity of the plasma ablation may be adjusted accordingly. But in general, the potential for contamination removal with plasma ablation is typically lower than with laser ablation, so that a longer process time is usually required. The plasma ablation method has the advantage, however, that it is better suited to use with a structure having a more complicated shaped surface region. In particular, the plasma method is highly suited to surface regions of complex geometry or curvature. Generally, also, the control of the spacing or gap in an airflow coupled plasma or gas plasma pre-treatment is low compared with the laser ablation method. In other words, with plasma ablation, the surface pre-treatment does not need such precise position control.

    [0019] In a preferred embodiment, the method is designed or adapted for use with a structure comprised of a composite material, especially of a fibre-reinforced polymer composite, such as a glass fibre-reinforced polymer (GFRP) composite or a carbon fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) composite. Thus, the additive manufacturing device may be configured to generate or form the fixture from a material that is adapted to fuse or bond with a fibre-reinforced polymer in the structure. It will be appreciated, however, that the method may also be carried out with a body structure comprised of a metal, as is typical in conventional airframes and fuselage structures, such that the additive manufacturing device is configured to generate or form the fixture from a material that can fuse or bond with the metallic structure. In addition to the fused or bonded connection that arises via this method, the fixture may also be secured with supplementary mechanical fasteners, such as rivets, screws, bolts or the like; such additional fasteners can be used to augment a connection of the fixture to the vehicle structure.

    [0020] In a particularly preferred embodiment of the invention, the step of forming or building the fixture with the additive manufacturing device comprises any one or more of: fused deposition modelling (FDM), laser sintering (LS), selective heat sintering (SHS), and stereo-lithography (SLA). These techniques may be generally referred to as three-dimensional (3D) printing. In the case of stereo-lithography (SLA), the fixture will then typically be formed from a photo-polymer material, such as a UV-curable or UV-sensitive polymer. In the case of a fused deposition modelling (FDM) procedure, the fixture may be formed from a curable polymer or thermoplastic polymer, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or a high-density poly-ethylene (HDPE), or from a metal, like a eutectic metal. In the case of selective heat sintering (SHS) or laser sintering (LS), the fixture may be formed from near any metal alloy, which is typically provided in a powdered or granular form, but also from a range of polymers that may also be in a powdered or granular form. Examples of polymers that would be suitable for series production of fixtures with a method of the present invention include DSM Somos® products NanoTool™, NanoForm™, and ProtoTherm™. These polymers are UV-curable, such that they may be hardened by irradiation with UV-light after their deposition in a final shape of the fixture. In this regard, these DSM Somos® polymers typically have a bending stiffness in the range of 79 to 121 N/mm2 and tension stiffness in the range of 62 to 78 N/mm2 after UV-hardening. Other suitable polymers include aliphatic or semi-aromatic polyamides, such as Nylon (Toray SQ133).

    [0021] In a particularly preferred embodiment, the three-dimensional digital model of the fixture includes data on a specific or desired position of the fixture within or on structure. Thus, the step of forming the fixture in situ preferably includes positioning the head of the additive manufacturing device within or on the structure based upon the data concerning the specific or desired position in the digital model. To this end, the body or fuselage structure may include one or more reference markers for providing a spatial correlation to reference points in the digital model of the fixture. One or more sensors may be provided for detecting and identifying the reference markers and then positioning the head of the additive manufacturing device based upon the detected and identified reference markers.

    [0022] The positioning and movement of both the ablation device and the additive manufacturing device is preferably computer-controlled. For example, the ablation device and the additive manufacturing device, or at least a respective head thereof, may be provided on a robotic assembly or a robotic arm, which is controllable to move and position the head of the device based upon the 3D digital model of the fixture. In this way, a very precise pre-treatment of the surface region and a very precise positioning of a fixture or bracket in or on the body or fuselage structure can be achieved, and with a high level of repeatability.

    [0023] Although the method of the invention has been described above with specific reference to a vehicle, such as an aircraft or spacecraft, it will be appreciated by persons skilled in the art that the invention is also applicable to non-vehicular structures. For example, the invention also provides a method of installing a fixture, such as a bracket, on a stationary structure, such as a mast or tower for a wind turbine or for an antenna (e.g., communication or TV antenna), a building, or other such structure. Furthermore, although the fixture may be installed with the inventive method during fabrication of the structure itself, it may also be subsequently installed in situ, e.g., via a climbing or crawling robot assembly in the case of a mast, tower, building, or space station.

    [0024] By employing the above method in space via a robot assembly that incorporates the additive manufacturing device or 3D printer, e.g., to carry out a repair or an installation job on a hull or outside of an orbiting space station, an astronaut can be spared the necessity of a space-walk and associated risk. In other words, the fixture may be installed with the inventive method via a robot, which may operate unimpeded and substantially without risk in the environment of space. Thus, a movable robotic device, such as a climbing or crawling robot, can be used to perform the method of the invention.

    [0025] In a particularly preferred embodiment of the invention, the digital model for the fixture may be created and/or modified during the installation procedure. Where the method is being carried out, for example, to conduct a repair of part of the structure, it may first be necessary to inspect and/or assess the part to be repaired before the precise shape and/or size of the fixture required can be ascertained. To this end, the method of the invention may include the step of examining a part of the structure to assess and/or determine the geometry and/or the dimensions of the fixture required, then providing or creating the three-dimensional (3D) digital model of the fixture based on the results of that examination. The robot assembly may therefore include examination equipment, such as a camera and/or one or more sensors to inspect and/or examine the part of the structure of interest.

    [0026] An extension of the above concept includes the possibility of the additive manufacturing device or 3D printer, e.g., set or provided on a robot, also generating or forming structural fixtures or elements for installation on the structure (e.g., on a hull of a space station). Such fixtures or elements may also be provided in the form of tracks or rails, which may then influence or determine the movement or progress of the robot itself. These elements can, for example, be designed to chart or define a path of the robot to a specific location at which a repair may need to be undertaken.

    [0027] In the context of this description of the invention, it is to be appreciated that the step of "forming" the fixture or any portion thereof may be understood in the sense of producing or fabricating that fixture or the portion thereof.

    [0028] According to another example the present disclosure provides an apparatus for installing a fixture, such as a bracket, in or on a structure of an aircraft or spacecraft, the apparatus comprises:

    an ablation device configured to generate and direct an ablating beam or stream onto a surface region of a structure for pre-treating the surface region;

    an additive manufacturing device for forming the fixture in situ on the pre-treated surface region; and

    a controller for controlling or operating the ablation device and/or the additive manufacturing device adjacent or at the surface region of the structure.



    [0029] In an example, the ablation device comprises a laser ablation device configured to generate and direct a laser beam onto the structure for laser ablating the surface region. The laser ablation device typically includes a head having one or more of: a laser focusing means to adjust a focal length of the laser beam, and at least one sensor for detecting a spacing or displacement of the head with respect to the surface region of the structure. This way, the laser ablation device may be configured to adjust the intensity of the heat ablation in dependence upon the degree of residues or impurities present and the material of the structure.

    [0030] In an example, the laser ablation device includes a laser head having a laser power in the range of 10 to 50 W (e.g., 20 W) and a wavelength of 1000 nm. The focusing means may comprise a convergence lens for laser beam. A convergence lens may be dependent on the spacing or distance from laser head to the target surface region. A variable focus lens will be suitable for laser surface treatment. A CL20 backpack is an example of a laser generator suitable as a hand held laser surface treatment system for this apparatus.

    [0031] In an alternative example, the ablation device comprises a plasma ablation device configured to generate and direct a plasma stream onto the structure for plasma ablating the surface region. Surface contaminations are evaporated by heat of the plasma. And, the fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) surface is roughed by the plasma at the same time of removing of contamination. The plasma ablation device will typically include a head having one or more of: focusing means to direct or focus the plasma stream, and at least one sensor for detecting a spacing or displacement of the head with respect to the surface region. Again, the ablation device may thereby be configured to adjust the intensity of the plasma ablation depending upon the degree of residues or impurities present and the material of the structure.

    [0032] In one example, the plasma ablation device may include a plasma head provides as an airflow-coupled plasma head or a gas plasma head. The plasma ablation device may operate at a power in the range of 200 to 1000 W (e.g., 600 W derived from 10 kV, 60 mA AC).

    [0033] In an example, the additive manufacturing device comprises a head for building the fixture sequentially, especially by generating and building up layers of the fixture on the structure, wherein the layers of the fixture are sequentially deposited on the structure by the head. The head of the additive manufacturing device preferably includes a nozzle portion configured for dispensing and/or applying a bonding adhesive, especially in layers or filaments, to the structure. Further, the nozzle portion may also configured for dispensing and/or applying one or more layers of filling material for generating and building up layers or filaments of the fixture on the structure.

    [0034] As noted above, each head of the apparatus desirably includes at least one distance sensor, and more preferably a plurality of distance sensors and/or contact sensors, for measuring or sensing a position or spacing of the head with respect to the surface region of the structure on which the fixture is to be formed. A high level positioning accuracy is important both for the ablation device for surface pre-treatment and for the additive manufacturing device (i.e., 3D printer) for fineness of layer pitch. This means not only robot arm positioning, but also relative accuracy of the head with respect to the structure (e.g., fuselage).

    [0035] For a more complete understanding of the present invention and the advantages thereof, exemplary embodiments of the invention are explained in more detail in the following description with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which like reference characters designate like parts and in which:
    Fig. 1
    is a schematic side view of a section of a fuselage or hull structure of an aircraft, upon which a fixture or bracket is being installed according to an embodiment of the invention;
    Fig. 2
    shows four schematic side views (a) to (d) of the fuselage or hull structure in Fig. 1, upon which the fixture or bracket is being installed according to an embodiment of the invention;
    Fig. 3
    is a schematic side view of a section of a fuselage or hull structure of an aircraft, and an apparatus with which a fixture or bracket is installed in situ;
    Fig. 4
    is a schematic side view of the apparatus according to the example of Fig. 3 showing the parts of the apparatus for performing a pre-treatment of a surface region of the structure in more detail;
    Fig. 5
    is a schematic side view of a section of a fuselage or hull structure of an aircraft, and an apparatus according to another example for installing a fixture or bracket in situ;
    Fig. 6
    is a schematic side view of the apparatus according to the example of Fig. 5 showing the parts of the apparatus for performing a pre-treatment of a surface region of the structure in more detail;
    Fig. 7
    schematically shows three stages (i) to (iii) of a method or technique of installing the fixture or bracket according to a particular embodiment;
    Fig. 8
    is a flow diagram which schematically illustrates a method according to a preferred embodiment;
    Fig. 9
    is a schematic illustration of an aircraft in which one or more brackets are installed; and
    Fig. 10
    is a schematic view of a space station upon which a fixture or element is being installed according to an embodiment of the invention.


    [0036] The accompanying drawings are included to provide a further understanding of the present invention and are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification. The drawings illustrate particular embodiments of the invention and together with the description serve to explain the principles of the invention. Other embodiments of the invention and many of the attendant advantages of the invention will be readily appreciated as they become better understood with reference to the following detailed description.

    [0037] It will be appreciated that common and well understood elements that may be useful or necessary in a commercially feasible embodiment are not necessarily depicted in order to facilitate a more abstracted view of the embodiments. The elements of the drawings are not necessarily illustrated to scale relative to each other. It will further be appreciated that certain actions and/or steps in an embodiment of a method may be described or depicted in a particular order of occurrences while those skilled in the art will understand that such specificity with respect to sequence is not necessarily required. It will also be understood that the terms and expressions used in the present specification have the ordinary meaning as is accorded to such terms and expressions with respect to their corresponding respective areas of inquiry and study, except where specific meanings have otherwise been set forth herein.

    [0038] With reference firstly to Fig. 1 of the drawings, a system or apparatus 100 for installing a fixture 1, here in the form of a bracket, on an airframe or fuselage structure F of an aircraft according to a method of the invention is illustrated schematically. The airframe or fuselage structure F of the aircraft in this embodiment comprises a curved shell section of the fuselage, comprised of a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer composite, which is supported in this case by brace elements B extending horizontally from a vertically extending supporting framework S. Also shown in Fig. 1 is a robot assembly 2, which includes a robotic arm 3 having a plurality of articulated joints 4, each of which is drivable in at least one and preferably in a number of degrees-of-freedom. The robot assembly 2 is itself mounted for translational movement along a rail member 5 in a direction perpendicular to a plane of drawing Fig. 1.

    [0039] Mounted on a distal end region of the robot arm 3 is a head 6 of an additive manufacturing device 7, which is generally understood or may be referred to as a 3D printer device. This additive manufacturing device 7 may operate on any one of the known 3D printing techniques, such as fused deposition modelling (FDM), laser sintering (LS), or stereo-lithography (SLA). Particularly preferred in this embodiment is a fused deposition modelling (FDM) device 7. The movement of the robotic assembly 2, and more particularly of the robot arm 3 via the articulated joints 4 and its position along the rail member 5, are computer-controlled via a computer processor P (illustrated schematically here, and shown later in Fig. 7), which also controls operation of the additive manufacturing device 7. During installation of a new fixture or bracket 1 according to the inventive method, the head 6 of the device 7 is moved by the robot arm 3 in the direction of the arrow in Fig. 1 to a predetermined position or surface region Z on the fuselage shell F.

    [0040] Referring now also to Figs. 2(a) to 2(d) of the drawings, the steps of forming or building the fixture or bracket 1 in the surface region Z of the fuselage structure F is illustrated schematically in the series of four images (a) to (d). In the image of Fig. 2(a), the head 6 of the FDM device 7 arranged at the distal end region of the robotic arm 3 has been moved into proximity with the surface of the fuselage structure F of the aircraft at position Z. A three-dimensional digital model M of the fixture or bracket 1 is provided or generated in the computer processor P and, based upon the data in this digital model M of the bracket 1, the computer processor P then controls the head 6 of the FDM device 7 to deposit layers of polymer material onto the CFRP fuselage structure as the head 6 of the device 7 is moved along the surface of shell structure F in the direction of the arrow in Fig. 2(a). Then, in Fig. 2(b), one or more layers L1 of the bracket 1 has/have been deposited upon the fuselage structure F at the predetermined position Z, which layer(s) is/are bonded or fused to CFRP structure F.

    [0041] The head 6 of the FDM device 7 is then moved slightly away from the fuselage structure F in the direction of the arrow shown in Fig. 2(b). As shown in Fig. 2(c), the head 6 may then commence deposition of one or more new layers L2 of the polymer material, which builds upon the previous layers L1 and thus builds-up the three-dimensional shape or form of the fixture or bracket 1. This procedure continues with reference to Fig. 2(d) of the drawings until the final 3D shape of the bracket 1 has been completed.

    [0042] Before the controller or processor P commences operating the ALM or additive manufacturing device 7 mounted on the robotic assembly 2, however, the apparatus 100 is used or employed to pre-treat the surface region Z at which the bracket 1 is to be installed on the structure F by heat ablation. To this end, as illustrated in Figs. 3 and 4 of the drawings, the apparatus 100 further includes an ablation device 9, a head 8 of which is mounted on a distal end region of a robot arm 3 in the robotic assembly 2. As noted above, movement of the robotic assembly 2, and specifically of the robot arm 3 via the articulated joints 4, is controlled via the processor P.

    [0043] Referring to Fig. 3, in this embodiment the ablation device 9 is a laser ablation device configured to generate and direct a laser beam LB onto the fuselage structure F for laser ablating the targeted surface region Z. The ablation device 9 includes a laser generator 10 in the form of a CL20 backpack which is supported on a carriage robot 11 and connected with the laser ablation head 8 via an optical cable 12, e.g., of optical fibres, for transmitting the laser beam LB. The laser generator 10 is rated at 20 W, generates a laser beam LB with a wavelength of 1000 nm, and is powered by a portable battery pack 13, which is movably supported on a carriage robot 14 within the apparatus 100.

    [0044] As represented only very schematically in drawing Fig. 4, the laser ablation head 8 includes a focusing lens 15, a focusing control unit 16 and a battery unit 17, which together operate to adjust a focal length of the laser beam LB emitted from the head 8. In this way, the focusing lens 15 and focusing control unit 16 cooperate to adjust an intensity of the laser ablation. Further, the head 8 of the laser ablation device 9 includes a position sensor unit 18 for detecting a spacing or gap δ (and, thus, also a displacement or change in position) of the head 8 with respect to the surface region Z being pre-treated by laser ablation. This spacing or gap δ, which will generally correspond to the focal length adjusted via lens 15 and control unit 16, is typically within the range of about 50 mm to about 100 mm. Furthermore, with laser ablating, the spacing or gap δ is typically controlled and maintained very precisely.

    [0045] With reference now to Figs. 5 and 6 of the drawings, it will be noted that, in another embodiment of the apparatus 100, the ablation device 9 is a plasma ablation device configured to generate and direct a plasma stream PS onto the fuselage structure F for plasma ablating the desired surface region Z. The plasma ablation device 9 comprises a generator control unit 19 which is supported on a movable carriage robot 20 and connected via a power cable 21 both with a battery pack 22 (also on a carriage robot 20) and with the plasma head 8. The plasma ablation device 9 in this case operates at 600 W on AC having 10 kV and 60 mA.

    [0046] The plasma stream PS itself is generated at the head 8, which is an air flow coupled plasma head 8. As is represented only very schematically in drawing Fig. 6, the ablation head 8 in this case includes a position sensor unit 23, a gap control unit 24, and a ball screw and motor 25, which co-operate to monitor and adjust the spacing or gap δ (and, thus, also a displacement or change in position) of the ablation head 8 with respect to the surface region Z being pre-treated. This spacing or gap δ is typically within the range of about 10 mm to about 30 mm, but high precision is generally not required.

    [0047] Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) NDI equipment may be employed to check the degree of residue removal and/or heat damage by the heat ablation pre-treatment. If a long time has elapsed since heat ablation pre-treating a surface region, a re-treatment of the surface may be conducted to ensure or maintain the good surface condition by the pre-treatment process. Such a re-treatment process will generally be the same as described above, but the power or intensity may be lower in view of the low amount of material to remove.

    [0048] With reference also now to Fig. 7 of the drawings, the method according to this preferred embodiment of the invention is illustrated in the three stages (i) to (iii). For example, in Fig. 7(i) an operator O is shown at a work-station W of the computer processor P engaged in the task of providing and/or generating the three-dimensional (3D) digital model M of the fixture or bracket 1 to be installed according to the method of this embodiment. The computer processor P at which the operator O is working is also responsible for the computer-controlled operation of the robot assembly 2, as well as both the additive manufacturing device 7 and the ablation device 9 described above with respect to Figs. 1 to 6.

    [0049] Fig. 7(ii) schematically illustrates the step of positioning the robot assembly 2 with respect to the fuselage structure F upon which the bracket 1 is to be formed and installed. In this regard, the robot assembly 2 is movable on one or more rails 5 within the tubular fuselage structure F, preferably on one of a plurality of separate rails 5, e.g., at separate heights or separate floors in the fuselage F. In this regard, the fuselage structure F may be a tubular shell as seen in Fig. 7(ii), rather than just a shell section shown in Fig. 1. Also, the robot assembly 2 may include a plurality of robotic arms 3 for simultaneously operating at various different positions Z within the fuselage structure F, i.e., in order to simultaneously pre-treat the respective surface regions and to build and install a plurality of fixtures or brackets 1 at different positions Z.

    [0050] With regard to the positioning of the robotic assembly 2, the digital model M of the fixture or bracket 1 may include data concerning a specific desired or predetermined surface region or position Z on the fuselage structure F for a particular bracket 1. This data can then be used together with reference markers R provided on the fuselage structure F, which are preferably detectable and identifiable by sensors (not shown) provided on the robot assembly 2 to give spatial correlation for moving the robotic arm 3 relative to the body or fuselage structure F, and especially the head 9 of an ablation device 8 and the head 6 of an additive manufacturing device 7, to the correct position or surface region Z for pre-treating the surface and then forming and installing a specific bracket 1 based upon the data in the digital model M. The data in the digital model may also include detailed data on the structure F in or on which the bracket or fixture 1 is to be installed.

    [0051] In other words, Fig. 7(ii) represents controlling operation of both the ablation device 9 and the additive manufacturing device 7 in the apparatus 100 for performing both the steps of: pre-treating the surface region Z of the structure F by heat ablation using the ablation device 9 provided on the robotic assembly 2, and then forming the bracket or fixture 1 in situ on the structure at the pre-treated surface region Z using the ALM device 7 on the robotic assembly 2.

    [0052] Fig. 7(iii) essentially corresponds to Fig. 2 of the drawings and schematically illustrates the sequential deposition or layer build-up and installation of a particular bracket 1 at the desired or predetermined position Z within the fuselage structure F, with the bracket 1 being simultaneously bonded or fused to the material of the fuselage structure F.

    [0053] Referring now to Fig. 8 of the drawings, a flow diagram is shown that again schematically illustrates the steps in the method of the preferred embodiment. In this regard, the first box I of Fig. 8 represents the step of arranging an apparatus 100 in, on or adjacent to the structure F, as generally shown in Figs. 1, 3 and 5 of the drawings. The second box II then represents the step of pre-treating a surface region Z of the structure F by heat ablation using the laser/plasma ablation device 9 on the apparatus 100 to remove contaminant residues from the surface region Z and thereby to prepare the surface region Z for connection of the bracket or fixture 1. In this regard, this step involves controlling movement of the head 8 of the ablation device 9 with respect to the predetermined position Z in the fuselage structure F based on position data in the digital model M of the bracket or fixture 1 via the processor or control unit P. The third box III represents the step of depositing one or more layer or region of adhesive on the pre-treated surface region Z for subsequently bonding the bracket or fixture 1 to the CFRP fuselage structure F. The final box IV in drawing Fig. 8 represents the step of forming the bracket 1 in situ on the fuselage structure F with the head 6 of the FDM device 7. This involves moving the head 6 of the FDM device 7 to the pre-treated surface region Z in the fuselage structure F based on position data in the three-dimensional digital model M and then sequentially building up the bracket 1 in layers L1, L2 based upon the digital model M in the computer processor P, which operates and controls the robot assembly 2 carrying the FDM device 7. The bracket 1 is connected by bonding to the CFRP fuselage structure F as the bracket 1 is formed.

    [0054] Following the above description of the method and apparatus of the disclosure, Fig. 9 of the drawings now schematically illustrates an aircraft A that incorporates a fuselage structure F, in which at least one fixture or bracket 1, and preferably a plurality thereof, has or have been installed according to a method of the present invention.

    [0055] With reference to Fig. 10 of the drawings, on the other hand, an alternative embodiment is now illustrated schematically. In this embodiment, the inventive method is being carried out on a space station T which is currently in orbit. The space station T includes solar collector modules C, modules H for human occupation, and an antenna module I, all of which are interconnected by a structural framework X. In this example, the method is employed to conduct a repair to a part on the antenna module I. Again, a robot assembly 2, which includes a robotic arm 3 having remotely controlled articulated joints 4 is employed, which avoids the need for an astronaut to undertake a space-walk. The structural framework X may include one or more rails 5 for guiding movement of the robot 2 to the antenna module I. Also, a head 6 of an additive manufacturing device 7 or 3D printer device is mounted at an end region of the robotic arm 3. In this way, the method described above with reference to Figs. 1-8 can be performed with the robot assembly 2 on the space station T to generate and install a new element or fixture 1 to repair the antenna module I. In the event that no rails 5 are available for the robot 2 on the structural framework X, it will be noted that the head 6 of the additive manufacturing device 7 may also be used to generate and install rail members 5 on the framework X of the space station T according to the method of the invention for guiding the robotic assembly 2 to that part of the antenna module I to be repaired.

    [0056] Although specific embodiments of the invention have been illustrated and described herein, it will be appreciated by those of ordinary skill in the art that a variety of alternate and/or equivalent implementations exist. It should be appreciated that the exemplary embodiment or exemplary embodiments are only examples, and are not intended to limit the scope, applicability, or configuration in any way. Rather, the foregoing summary and detailed description will provide those skilled in the art with a convenient road map for implementing at least one exemplary embodiment, it being understood that various changes may be made in the function and arrangement of elements described in an exemplary embodiment. Generally, this application is intended to cover any adaptations or variations of the specific examples discussed herein.

    [0057] In this document, the terms "comprise", "comprising", "include", "including", "contain", "containing", "have", "having", and any variations thereof, are intended to be understood in an inclusive (i.e., non-exclusive) sense, such that the process, method, device, apparatus or system described herein is not limited to those features or parts or elements or steps recited but may include other elements, features, parts or steps not expressly listed or inherent to such process, method, article, or apparatus. Furthermore, the terms "a" and "an" used herein are intended to be understood as meaning one or more unless explicitly stated otherwise. Moreover, the terms "first", "second", "third", etc. are used merely as labels, and are not intended to impose numerical requirements on or to establish a certain ranking of importance of their objects.

    List of Reference Signs



    [0058] 
    100
    apparatus
    1
    fixture or bracket
    2
    robot assembly
    3
    robotic arm
    4
    joint or articulation
    5
    rail
    6
    head
    7
    additive manufacturing device
    8
    head
    9
    ablation device
    10
    laser generator
    11
    carriage robot
    12
    optical cable
    13
    battery pack
    14
    carriage robot
    15
    focusing lens
    16
    focusing control unit
    17
    battery unit
    18
    position sensor unit
    19
    plasma generator control unit
    20
    carriage robot
    21
    power cable
    22
    battery pack
    23
    position sensor unit
    24
    gap control unit
    25
    ball screw and motor
    F
    fuselage structure or shell
    B
    brace element
    S
    supporting framework
    P
    computer processor
    M
    digital model
    Z
    surface region or position for installation
    L1
    first layer(s)
    L2
    second layer(s)
    R
    reference marker
    O
    operator
    W
    work-station
    LB
    laser beam
    δ
    spacing or gap
    PS
    plasma stream
    A
    aircraft
    T
    space station
    C
    solar collector module
    H
    human occupation module
    I
    antenna module
    X
    structural framework



    Claims

    1. A method of installing a fixture (1), such as a bracket, in or on a structure (F) of an aircraft or spacecraft, comprising the steps of:

    arranging an apparatus (100) in, on or adjacent the structure (F);

    pre-treating a surface region (Z) of the structure (F) by ablation using the apparatus (100); and

    forming the fixture (1) in situ on the structure at the pre-treated surface region (Z) using the apparatus (100) based on a digital model (M) of the fixture (1), wherein the fixture (1) is installed by connecting the fixture (1) to the structure (F) at the pre-treated surface region (Z) as the fixture (1) is formed, and wherein the step of pre-treating the surface region (Z) of the structure (F) by ablation comprises laser ablating the surface region (Z) via a laser ablation device (9).


     
    2. A method according to claim 1, wherein laser ablating the surface region (Z) comprises one or more of:

    generating a laser beam (LB);

    positioning a head (8) of the laser ablation device at a predetermined spacing (δ) from the structure (F);

    focusing the laser beam (LB) onto the surface region (Z) of the structure (F); and

    moving the laser beam (LB) over the surface region (Z) at a predetermined spacing (δ) from the structure.


     
    3. A method of installing a fixture (1), such as a bracket, in or on a structure (F) of an aircraft or spacecraft, comprising the steps of:

    arranging an apparatus (100) in, on or adjacent the structure (F);

    pre-treating a surface region (Z) of the structure (F) by ablation using the apparatus (100); and

    forming the fixture (1) in situ on the structure at the pre-treated surface region (Z) using the apparatus (100) based on a digital model (M) of the fixture (1),


     
    4. wherein the fixture (1) is installed by connecting the fixture (1) to the structure (F) at the pre-treated surface region (Z) as the fixture (1) is formed, and wherein the step of pre-treating the surface region (Z) of the structure (F) by ablation comprises plasma ablating the surface region (Z) via a plasma ablation device (9).
     
    5. A method according to claim 3, wherein plasma ablating the surface region (Z) comprises one or more of:

    generating a plasma stream (PS);

    positioning a head (8) of a plasma ablation device at a predetermined spacing (δ) from the structure (F);

    focusing the plasma stream (PS) onto the surface region (Z) of the structure (F); and

    moving the plasma stream (PS) over the surface region (Z) at a predetermined spacing (δ) from the structure.


     
    6. A method according to any of claims 1 to 4, wherein the digital model (M) of the fixture (1) includes data on an intended position of the fixture within structure (F), wherein the step of pre-treating the surface region (Z) of the structure (F) includes positioning a head (8) of the ablation device (9) adjacent the structure (F) based on the digital model (M) of the fixture (1); whereby the structure (F) may include one or more reference markers (R) for spatial correlation to reference points in the digital model (M) of the fixture (1).
     
    7. A method according to any of claims 1 to 5, wherein the step of forming the fixture (1) in situ comprises building the fixture (1) sequentially, preferably by generating and building up layers of the fixture (1) in the surface region (Z) with an additive manufacturing device (7), wherein the layers of the fixture (1) are preferably sequentially deposited on the structure (F).
     
    8. A method according to any of claims 1 to 6, wherein the step of connecting the fixture (1) to the structure (F) includes at least one of: bonding or fusing one or more of the layers of the fixture (1) to the structure (F) as they are generated; and/or forming the fixture (1) in situ in a mechanical fit or a mechanical engagement with part of the structure (F).
     
    9. A method according to claim 7, wherein bonding of the fixture (1) to the structure (F) includes depositing one or more layer or region of adhesive on the pre-treated surface region (Z), preferably before generating and building up layers of the fixture (1) on the structure.
     


    Ansprüche

    1. Verfahren zum Installieren einer Halterung (1) wie beispielsweise einem Träger in oder auf einer Struktur (F) eines Luft- oder Raumfahrzeugs, umfassend die folgenden Schritte:

    Anordnen einer Vorrichtung (100) in, auf oder benachbart zu der Struktur (F),

    Vorbehandeln eines Oberflächenbereichs (Z) der Struktur (F) durch Ablation mittels der Vorrichtung (100) und

    in situ erfolgendes Bilden der Halterung (1) auf der Struktur in dem vorbehandelten Oberflächenbereich (Z) mittels der Vorrichtung (100) auf Grundlage eines digitalen Modells (M) der Halterung (1),

    wobei die Halterung (1) installiert wird durch ein Verbinden der Halterung (1) mit der Struktur (F) in dem vorbehandelten Oberflächenbereich (Z), während die Halterung (1) gebildet wird, und wobei der Schritt des Vorbehandelns des Oberflächenbereichs (Z) der Struktur (F) durch Ablation ein Durchführen von Laser-Ablation an dem Oberflächenbereich (Z) durch eine Laser-Ablationseinrichtung (9) umfasst.


     
    2. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, wobei das Durchführen der Laser-Ablation an dem Oberflächenbereich (Z) eines oder mehrere der Folgenden umfasst:

    Erzeugen eines Laserstrahls (LB),

    Positionieren eines Kopfs (8) der Laser-Ablationseinrichtung in einem vorab bestimmten Abstand (δ) von der Struktur (F),

    Konzentrieren des Laserstrahls (LB) auf den Oberflächenbereich (Z) der Struktur (F) und

    Bewegen des Laserstrahls (LB) über den Oberflächenbereich (Z) in einem vorab bestimmten Abstand (δ) von der Struktur.


     
    3. Verfahren zum Installieren einer Halterung (1) wie beispielsweise einem Träger in oder auf einer Struktur (F) eines Luft- oder Raumfahrzeugs, umfassend die folgenden Schritte:

    Anordnen einer Vorrichtung (100) in, auf oder benachbart zu der Struktur (F),

    Vorbehandeln eines Oberflächenbereichs (Z) der Struktur (F) durch Ablation mittels der Vorrichtung (100) und

    in situ erfolgendes Bilden der Halterung (1) auf der Struktur in dem vorbehandelten Oberflächenbereich (Z) mittels der Vorrichtung (100) auf Grundlage eines digitalen Modells (M) der Halterung (1),


     
    4. wobei die Halterung (1) installiert wird durch ein Verbinden der Halterung (1) mit der Struktur (F) in dem vorbehandelten Oberflächenbereich (Z), während die Halterung (1) gebildet wird, und
    wobei der Schritt des Vorbehandelns des Oberflächenbereichs (Z) der Struktur (F) durch Ablation ein Durchführen von Plasma-Ablation an dem Oberflächenbereich (Z) durch eine Plasma-Ablationseinrichtung (9) umfasst.
     
    5. Verfahren nach Anspruch 3, wobei das Durchführen der Plasma-Ablation an dem Oberflächenbereich (Z) eines oder mehrere der Folgenden umfasst:

    Erzeugen eines Plasmastroms (PS),

    Positionieren eines Kopfs (8) einer Plasma-Ablationseinrichtung in einem vorab bestimmten Abstand (δ) von der Struktur (F),

    Konzentrieren des Plasmastroms (PS) auf den Oberflächenbereich (Z) der Struktur (F) und

    Bewegen des Plasmastroms (PS) über den Oberflächenbereich (Z) in einem vorab bestimmten Abstand (δ) von der Struktur.


     
    6. Verfahren nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 4, wobei das digitale Modell (M) der Halterung (1) Daten zu einer vorgesehenen Position der Halterung innerhalb der Struktur (F) beinhaltet, wobei der Schritt des Vorbehandelns des Oberflächenbereichs (Z) der Struktur (F) ein Positionieren eines Kopfs (8) der Ablationseinrichtung (9) benachbart zu der Struktur (F) auf Grundlage des digitalen Modells (M) der Halterung (1) beinhaltet, wobei die Struktur (F) eine oder mehrere Referenzmarkierungen (R) zur räumlichen Korrelierung mit Referenzpunkten in dem digitalen Modell (M) der Halterung (1) beinhalten kann.
     
    7. Verfahren nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 5, wobei der Schritt des in situ erfolgenden Bildens der Halterung (1) ein sequentielles Aufbauen der Halterung (1) umfasst, bevorzugt durch Erzeugen und Aufbauen von Schichten der Halterung (1) in dem Oberflächenbereich (Z) mit einer zusätzlichen Herstellungseinrichtung (7), wobei die Schichten der Halterung (1) bevorzugt sequentiell auf die Struktur (F) abgeschieden werden.
     
    8. Verfahren nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 6, wobei der Schritt des Verbindens der Halterung (1) mit der Struktur (F) mindestens eines der Folgenden beinhaltet: Anfügen oder Anschmelzen einer oder mehrerer der Schichten der Halterung (1) an die Struktur (F), während diese erzeugt werden, und/oder in situ erfolgendes Bilden der Halterung (1) in einer mechanischen Passung oder einem mechanischen Eingriff mit einem Teil der Struktur (F).
     
    9. Verfahren nach Anspruch 7, wobei das Anfügen der Halterung (1) an die Struktur (F) ein Abscheiden einer/s oder mehrerer Schichten oder Bereiche eines Klebstoffs auf den vorbehandelten Oberflächenbereich (Z) beinhaltet, bevorzugt vor dem Erzeugen und Aufbauen von Schichten der Halterung (1) auf der Struktur.
     


    Revendications

    1. Procédé d'installation d'un équipement (1), telle qu'un support, dans ou sur une structure (F) d'un aéronef ou engin spatial, comprenant les étapes de :

    l'agencement d'un appareil (100) dans, sur, ou de façon adjacente à, la structure (F) ;

    le prétraitement d'une région de surface (Z) de la structure (F) par ablation en utilisant l'appareil (100) ; et

    la formation de l'équipement (1) in situ sur la structure au niveau de la région de surface prétraitée (Z) en utilisant l'appareil (100) sur la base d'un modèle numérique (M) de l'équipement (1), dans lequel l'équipement (1) est installé en raccordant l'équipement (1) à la structure (F) au niveau de la région de surface prétraitée (Z) lorsque l'équipement (1) est formé, et dans lequel l'étape du prétraitement de la région de surface (Z) de la structure (F) par ablation comprend l'ablation par laser de la région de surface (Z) par l'intermédiaire d'un dispositif d'ablation par laser (9).


     
    2. Procédé selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'ablation par laser de la région de surface (Z) comprend un ou plusieurs de :

    la génération d'un faisceau laser (LB) ;

    le positionnement d'une tête (8) du dispositif d'ablation par laser à un espacement prédéterminé (δ) par rapport à la structure (F) ;

    la focalisation du faisceau laser (LB) sur la région de surface (Z) de la structure (F) ; et

    le déplacement du faisceau laser (LB) par-dessus la région de surface (Z) à un espacement prédéterminé (δ) par rapport à la structure.


     
    3. Procédé d'installation d'un équipement (1), tel qu'un support, dans ou sur une structure (F) d'un aéronef ou engin spatial, comprenant les étapes de :

    l'agencement d'un appareil (100) dans, sur, ou de façon adjacente à, la structure (F) ;

    le prétraitement d'une région de surface (Z) de la structure (F) par ablation en utilisant l'appareil (100) ; et

    la formation de l'équipement (1) in situ sur la structure au niveau de la région de surface prétraitée (Z) en utilisant l'appareil (100) sur la base d'un modèle numérique (M) de l'équipement (1).


     
    4. dans lequel l'équipement (1) est installé en raccordant l'équipement (1) à la structure (F) au niveau de la région de surface prétraitée (Z) lorsque l'équipement (1) est formé, et dans lequel l'étape du prétraitement de la région de surface (Z) de la structure (F) par ablation comprend l'ablation par plasma de la région de surface (Z) par l'intermédiaire d'un dispositif d'ablation par plasma (9).
     
    5. Procédé selon la revendication 3, dans lequel l'ablation par plasma de la région de surface (Z) comprend un ou plusieurs de :

    la génération d'un courant de plasma (PS) ;

    le positionnement d'une tête (8) d'un dispositif d'ablation par plasma à un espacement prédéterminé (δ) par rapport à la structure (F) ;

    la focalisation du courant de plasma (PS) sur la région de surface (Z) de la structure (F) ; et

    le déplacement du courant de plasma (PS) par-dessus la région de surface (Z) à un espacement prédéterminé (δ) par rapport à la structure.


     
    6. Procédé selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 4, dans lequel le modèle numérique (M) de l'équipement (1) inclut des données sur une position prévue de l'équipement à l'intérieur de structure (F), dans lequel l'étape du prétraitement de la région de surface (Z) de la structure (F) inclut le positionnement d'une tête (8) du dispositif d'ablation (9) de façon adjacente à la structure (F) sur la base du modèle numérique (M) de l'équipement (1) ; moyennant quoi la structure (F) peut inclure un ou plusieurs repères de référence (R) pour la corrélation spatiale à des points de référence dans le modèle numérique (M) de l'équipement (1).
     
    7. Procédé selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 5, dans lequel l'étape de la formation de l'équipement (1) in situ comprend la construction de l'équipement (1) séquentiellement, de préférence en générant et accumulant des couches de l'équipement (1) dans la région de surface (Z) avec un dispositif de fabrication additive (7), dans lequel les couches de l'équipement (1) sont de préférence séquentiellement déposées sur la structure (F).
     
    8. Procédé selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 6, dans lequel l'étape du raccordement de l'équipement (1) à la structure (F) inclut au moins une de : la liaison ou la fusion d'une ou de plusieurs des couches de l'équipement (1) à la structure (F) lorsqu'elles sont générées ; et/ou la formation de l'équipement (1) in situ en un ajustement mécanique ou une prise mécanique avec une partie de la structure (F).
     
    9. Procédé selon la revendication 7, dans lequel la liaison de l'équipement (1) à la structure (F) inclut le dépôt d'une ou de plusieurs couches ou régions d'adhésif sur la région de surface prétraitée (Z), de préférence avant de générer et d'accumuler des couches de l'équipement (1) sur la structure.
     




    Drawing




















    Cited references

    REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



    This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

    Patent documents cited in the description