Innovations in aerospace technology, enhanced commercial focuses on decarbonizing, and the evolution of electric mobility will accelerate the momentum of advanced air mobility. An area where this segment’s innovative transformation is evident is that of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts, known as eVOTLs. These innovations have gained traction with a range of applications, including inter-city transportation, emergency and medical services, and private personal aerial vehicles. One of the many companies attentive to the growing eVOTL adoption rates has developed its own solutions for eVOTL technology. To simplify their assembly and ensure an efficient manufacturing process, the aerospace market entrant came to GP Reeves seeking a custom automated dispensing solution.

The Problem

This segment is extremely young. The deployment of eVOTL prototypes has only recently taken place, so manufacturers must figure out the assembly process without precedent production examples. With this lack of comparison, however, comes great opportunities for success. The manufacturer needed assistance with their material delivery and hoped the result would integrate with the rest of their production automation concepts. They chose GP Reeves due to our willingness to customize automated precise systems, ensuring all unique and challenging needs can be effectively accommodated. GP Reeves collaborated with the team to consider the aspects of each part, material, surface area, and environmental condition to ensure the configuration of the best solution possible.

GUS Degassing System

The Solutions Involved

eVOTL Thermal Plate Inverter 

One of the systems GP Reeves created was specifically designed to accommodate the needs of the inverter thermal plate components of the eVOTL’s motor. We successfully programmed and designed a robotic dispense cell so that it recognized the progress of the part’s construction. It is able to dispense materials to the correct areas even as the overall shape of the plate changed throughout development. The base plate component would enter the automation cell and fix onto a custom nest system. A 3D vision camera would then verify the part and its location on the nest. Once it sensed which part had entered the system and recognized the surface areas that required material, a robot would exchange the camera for the custom dispense head associated with that part.  

This application utilized multiple materials, including various adhesives and thermally conductive pastes. The diverse collection of materials involved added an extra level of complexity to the application. The robot accommodates for each material need by grabbing appropriate dispense heads connected to the different dispense systems. These systems utilized pumps and servo dispensers to effectively get each material from its original container to the appropriate dispense head in an efficient manner. After the precise delivery of material had taken place, the robot would again grab the camera and verify that it was correctly dispensed onto the components. Once confirmed, the next layer of the thermal plate would be loaded, and the robot would acknowledge the plate’s new topography. With this, the robot would repeat the dispensing process to the areas required of the new part.  

Each plate layer has different locations at which precise beads were necessary and different volumes of material were required. Our system was able to accommodate for each of these unique needs and ensured accuracy, efficiency, and repeatability. This verify-dispense-verify process would repeat until all layers of the thermal plate had received the accurate amounts of material needed. After this, the part would exit the cell and a new base plate would enter the system. 

Adhering Pouch Cell Layers 

A significant challenge of eVOTL manufacturers is battery assembly. OEMs in the advanced air mobility landscape need to alleviate the dichotomy of having both extreme power density and a small and lightweight energy storage solution. GP Reeves carefully considered this idea when developing a system to bond and seal battery components by dispensing a UV cure gasketing adhesive to lithium-ion pouch cells. For this system, GP Reeves developed an automated solution to seal and confirm the delivery of material to pouch cell components.  

The system utilized a custom nest, which had the capacity to fix multiple layers of pouch cells within its cavity. Once the first layer of pouch cells entered the automation cell and sat within the nest, the robot would utilize a 3D vision camera to verify which layer of the overall module had entered the system. The robot would then exchange the camera for the appropriate dispense nozzle. This end of arm tool’s material was supplied by a dispensing unit comprised of a GSP, which protected material from ambient light as it was pumped to the system, as well as a continuous flow RotoMeter, which fed the complex material to the final nozzle head. 

With vision confirmation in mind and a reliable feed of material, the robot would then dispense the UV material in beads across specific locations of the pouch cell layers. Customized controls ensured a precise dispense onto each part, providing the customer with confidence that the material was applied with the highest standards of perfection. After the dispensing process for the layer had been completed, the automated station would receive its next layer of the battery module and repeat the dispense. This would occur until the final layer had been dispensed to, upon which the overall module would leave the custom nest and another single layer would enter the system. Because of the intense accuracy of the dispense system, the manufacturer’s concerns regarding improper material placement were minimized. The system’s quick cycle time and custom components allowed the overall assembly process of the eVOTL’s energy storage units to continue efficiently.  

Electric Propulsion Assembly 

Similar to the previous thermal plate design, GP Reeves was able to create a robotic system that propelled the assembly of the aerospace developer’s visions forward. We developed a custom nest to effectively interface with the customer’s pallet and part. The robot our team programmed would start the dispense process by attaching a 3D vision camera and reviewing the electric motor part’s location on the nest. After verification of the part and its needs, the robot would exchange the camera for a plasma treat gun and present it to the part. This component of the system was utilized due to the benefits plasma treatment can provide for electrical components and the ways through which it can improve material bonding. 

After the robot had applied plasma treat to the stator surfaces, it would return the plasma treat gun and move on to the dispensing process. In addition to plasma treatment, this assembly required a range of production materials. For these materials, we developed separate dispense systems utilizing dual pumps and servo driven positive displacement dispensers. Because multiple dispense systems were involved, a reliable supply of each part’s specified material was always available when needed. According to the camera verification received earlier, the robot chooses the correct dispense head and tip and double checks that it was the correct choice for the part and its specific material needs. 

Once all checks are complete, the system dispenses beads of the correct material in the volume and shape needed to the necessary areas of the propulsion component. After the material is delivered, the robot exchanges the dispense head it had used for a camera to verify correct material placement and positioning. When the application receives a successful confirmation of accurate material delivery, the next part of the electric motor’s structure is added to the cell. This process repeats until all components have gone through the system and the construction of the electric propulsion structure is complete. After this, the overall module moves on to its next automation cell and the dispense cell would begin to work on a new base part.

Final Results

Because of the custom solutions offered by GP Reeves, the aerospace developer was able to improve assembly efficiency, intensify material accuracy, and decrease production downtime. Our automated systems provided a way to deliver unique materials to the various components needed, even though challenging aspects like different materials, gradual constructions, and heavy government regulations were involved. As air mobility continues to advance and eVOTLs grow in popularity, GP Reeves is enthused to support the variety of assembly processes of the industry with our innovative dispensing systems – the sky’s the limit! 

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