The introduction of automation for the assembly of aircraft wing box structures will require individual components to conform closely to the CAD design specification with regard to shape geometry and dimensional tolerances. Often, due to a variety of previous manufacturing processes, the 3D shape of these large components lose the accuracy of their designed dimensional specifications. Under these circumstances part‐to‐part assembly becomes tedious and it would be impossible to rely on robots to achieve precise assembly in an automated system. For this reason, variations need to be accurately quantified in order to provide a reliable prediction model in aid of any future automated assembly. This paper describes the measurement method used to record the possible variations occurring during the assembly process. The measurements were made using a laser tracker where the results are expected to offer some explanations as to the causes of the variation. The suitability of a laser tracker in a large assembly jig environment is then assessed. This study is based on the work that was carried out at BAE Systems UK, where the Airbus commercial aircraft wings are manufactured.
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