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A reactive reconfigurable tool for aerospace structures

Colm McKeown (School of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Phil Webb (School of Engineering, Cranfield University, Cranfield, UK)

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 27 September 2011




The purpose of this paper is to describe the development, testing and scientific evaluation of a novel, load‐cell‐controlled reactive reconfigurable tooling (RRT) solution. This RRT not only addresses the underlying inherent problems with traditional reconfigurable tools but also potentially expands their use into the area of condition monitoring.


The paper covers the design intent and methodology. The construction and evaluation of both a simple prototype and a fully functional tool are described.


The tool was successfully demonstrated using friction stir welding (FSW) of fuselage panels as a demanding application and the full functionality of the tool was demonstrated. The condition and process monitoring system was also demonstrated and shown to be able to distinguish both between different types of weld and tool failure conditions.

Research limitations/implications

Having successfully designed and tested the novel RRT system under the extreme conditions of FSW, it is apparent that there are many more applications and developments that this system could be used for. The same requirements for accurate control of geometry exist in processes such as water jet cutting, trimming and machining. However, there was not sufficient resource or time within the research programme to verify this. One disadvantage of the tool is the cost of the individual load cells and the associated charge amplifiers; however, this cost is offset by the opportunity to use them in a tool condition monitoring function as well.

Practical implications

The tool developed not only has the potential to provide cost benefits but also time reductions due to the elimination of the need to move large and heavy tools in and out of the FSW machine when part production runs are changed.


The originality of work described is the tool's ability to both adapt and monitor the component being held. This places it considerably beyond the state of the art in large‐scale industrial reconfigurable tooling. The research's value lies in applicability and demonstration for real production parts and processes.



McKeown, C. and Webb, P. (2011), "A reactive reconfigurable tool for aerospace structures", Assembly Automation, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 334-343.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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