The IAL is a highly automated manufacturing system to produce the center fuselage of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which is destined for the U.S. military and several foreign air forces.
In naming the global systems integrator its 2010-11 Tooling Supplier of the Year, Northrop Grumman said KUKA Systems Corp. North America had demonstrated outstanding performance against four benchmarks: cost, schedule, quality and customer satisfaction.
"KUKA always hits the ground running and offers a unique skill-set and approach with regards to designing, layout, fabricating, validation, project management and the interfacing of a system of tools," says the official citation from Northrop Grumman.
"KUKA is more than a supplier but rather a partner who has provided innovative solutions and excellent product quality which consistently yields annual ratings above 99 percent defect free."
KUKA Systems' contract to design, build and install the IAL is worth more than $100 million and covers more than 500 tools required for 78 tool positions occupying 200,000 square feet of floor space at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, Calif., manufacturing center.
It includes automated assembly tool systems, transportation systems and manufacturing systems.
KUKA Systems' inspiration for the IAL is the fully integrated and highly automated and optimized assembly lines it developed for major automakers around the world.
The Integrated Assembly Line required extensive development by KUKA Systems engineers and other technical staff working in close collaboration with Northrop Grumman counterparts to design an aircraft manufacturing line that is heavily automated and fully integrated and optimized.
Such a high degree of automation is a rarity in the aerospace sector where, traditionally, the assembly line is a collection of independent tooling stations and tends to be labor intensive, Northrop Grumman said.
The Integrated Assembly Line is being phased into service and when F-35 production reaches a peak, beginning in 2014, it is believed it will be capable of manufacturing one center fuselage per day.
"This supplier-of-the-year award is particularly gratifying because Northrop Grumman is an innovation pathfinder whose support for this project is helping validate the potential of automated assembly concepts to change how military and civil aircraft are manufactured," says Robert Reno, vice president, Aerospace Division, KUKA Systems Corp.
KUKA Systems Corp. North America, a company with headquarters in Michigan, is part of the KUKA Systems Group of Augsburg, Germany, a leading global supplier of flexible automation systems for the automotive, aerospace, logistics, energy and industrial solutions sectors with more than 3,500 employees worldwide.