Is your company apprehensive about investing in manual aerospace drills? Most aerospace companies are considering full automation to keep up with the increasing demand for aircraft manufacturing. So far, this still remains a distant reality . There is simply too much data  needed to automate the machine - and to match the skill of an experienced operator.
In this article, we will explore the benefits of having higher-quality and more reliable, manually operated drills from the fuselage to the final assembly of aerospace manufacturers and suppliers in the face of increasing automation in the industry.
Importance of proper drilling in fuselage integrity
The parts of an aircraft are commonly made from a composite material of carbon fiber reinforced polymer or CFRP and sheets of light metals, such as aluminum or titanium alloys. Holes are drilled through these parts, so they can be joined in the later stages of assembly.
A CFRP composite material is extremely durable, but drilling through it could cause the layers to separate at the hole opening, creating a weak spot that is vulnerable to the repeated cycles of pressurizing then depressurizing, which an aircraft is frequently subjected to. That is why proper techniques such as one-shot drilling or OSD are needed to prevent the layers from delaminating and compromising structural integrity.
The drilling operation is critical in the assembly of the fuselage due to the high number of holes needed for the riveting stage. Different types of drills are needed to make different types of holes, each with its own purpose, and all critical for the overall performance of the aircraft.
How manual drilling is still relevant despite the 4th revolution
The last several decades have shown a steady increase in the demand for aircrafts and no signs of slowing down. In fact, an increase of 45% in the size of the aircraft fleet for North America alone is expected in the next two decades.
That is why today’s aerospace industry is continuously looking for the best production system that balances cost, energy, and social and environmental impacts. This includes manufacturers trying to fully automate fuselage assembly.
Significant leaps have been made in the digitalization of the aerospace manufacturing industry. However, machines still cannot match the dexterity and precision of manual drilling. Further, manual drilling cannot be eliminated entirely, at least in some cases.  Thus, the significance of reliable manual aerospace drills for the aeronautical sector cannot be downplayed despite the imminent automation from the fourth industrial revolution.
In an effort to close the gap between manual and automated drills, tools manufacturers are making increasingly smarter manual drills. These advanced tools are capable of minimizing operator error and dramatically improving hole quality. They are also easier to handle and safer to use, which increases operator productivity holistically.
Now that we have explored the limitations of fully automated drilling and assembly, we will explore the best manual-drilling options. These options are job-specific and take into account reliability and long term cost savings.
Different types of aerospace drills used in the fuselage assembly
The production of an aircraft's frame involves a complex process of drilling, countersinking, and riveting, which is a challenge so far for full automation. It requires different types of drills, some of which will be discussed in this section.
- Electric handheld drill - The electric handheld drill is a battery drill perfect for any stage in the fuselage assembly, with a programmable trigger that keeps drilling speed constant. It is packed with countless other features to enhance operator productivity. In essence, it’s a smart manual drill.
Safety - As a cordless aerospace drill, it eliminates the risk of injury from trips and falls. Its size and weight are ideal for gripping and hours of effortless drilling with no wrist injury.
Cost Savings - The drill has five speed settings, which can be adjusted through an intuitive HMI for a wider range of applications from a single tool. Its handle length and design ensures perpendicularity while drilling. In addition, it has an LED indicator that monitors energy and cutter usage, so that you can optimize cutter life.
Energy Efficiency - It is powered by an 18V or 36V battery with a switchable position so that you can get into hard-to-reach spaces.
Social and Environmental Impacts - It is 14 times quieter than a pneumatic drill, which leads to less disruption in the work area and its surroundings, and has better ergonomics to ensure the health of its operator.
- Advanced drilling unit - The advanced drilling unit/PFD (Positive Feed Drill) can be used for a wide range of high-speed and heavy-duty drilling from component manufacturing to final assembly.
Safety - Each unit has an emergency stop button within arm’s reach of the operator so that work can be immediately stopped if needed.
Cost Savings - It has a distinctive modular design, which means only one motor is needed to drive several drilling components for a wide range of applications in one-shot drilling and countersinking.
Energy Efficiency - It has a built-in lubrication pump for delivering the right amount of coolant on the cutting tool tip, ensuring high efficiency every time you drill.
Social Impact – It has an easy configuration for faster module changeover, which is better for operator ergonomics and working conditions.
Environmental Effects - It is energy efficient to reduce carbon emissions and other environmental footprints from product use.
- Handheld angle drill - This is a heavy-duty handheld drill built with a shorter head length, perfect for drilling holes in tight spaces.
Safety - The operator can direct side exhaust as he sees fit. It is also designed for comfort, safety, and ease of use.
Cost Savings - It has a lubrication-free motor, which means less maintenance is needed.
Energy Efficiency - It has a low runout for higher precision and a low operating cost.
Social Impact - It has reduced head length for better ergonomics in cramped spaces.
Environmental Effects - It consumes less air, which conserves energy.
- Pneumatic handheld drill - The pneumatic handheld drill is built for a wide range of applications in fuselage and final assembly. Its rubber pistol grip reduces vibrations and temperature fluctuations for a consistent hole quality every time you drill.
Safety - The angle of the handle and its rubberized grip minimizes the risk of slipping and optimizes stability and comfort for the operator.
Cost Savings - It’s lubrication-free for less maintenance cost and effort.
Energy Efficiencies - It has great throttling capability for more efficient drilling.
Social and Environmental Effects - It has an easy-to-handle rubber pistol grip to prevent stenosing tenosynovitis or trigger finger.
- Modular drill - The modular drill has a very slim and light design that is perfect for working in narrow, hard to reach spaces. It comes with several heads for a wide range of drilling applications needed in fuselage and final assembly.
Safety - It has a slim and light design, which is great for operator ergonomics.
Cost Savings - It is a modular aerospace drill with many head attachments, which means you can drill many different types of holes with the one motor.
Energy Efficiency - It is energy-efficient for a low operating cost and has modularity to reduce operator effort loss.
Social and Environmental Effects - The drill emits minimal noise, which minimizes disruption in the work area and the immediate vicinity.
Other Tools Available for Aerospace Manufacturing
Drilling, while critical, is only one component of airplane assembly. This section will show you some of the other tools needed to complete the production process.
- Battery pistol grip screwdriver - This cordless screwdriver has variable speed and torque and is powered by a Lithium-ion battery.
Safety - It has a slim design and pistol grip for better handling and less slippage; it also has two strong front lights for better visibility.
Cost Savings - The speed can be regulated to match needed torque; you would need only one tool for various applications.
Energy Efficiency - It has a powerful lithium-ion battery and LED indicator for battery status.
Social and Environmental Impacts - It has an ergonomic design for better working conditions and operator productivity.
- Battery handheld nutrunner tensor SB - This is a dependable tool with torque and angle monitoring systems for a wide range of tightening applications.
Safety - It has a high power-to-weight ratio and ErgoGrip for safe handling.
Cost Savings - It has a torque transducer for error-proof tightening, which means fewer redos and man-hours lost.
Energy Efficiency - It’s battery operated for less energy consumption, compared to its pneumatic counterpart.
Environmental Impact - It consumes less energy for less carbon footprint.
- STBench Joint Simulator - With its high-resolution encoder and advanced electrical contact system, the accurate behavior of a real joint in actual shop floor conditions can be simulated. This makes it possible to test machine capability without having to disrupt production. It can also be connected to an external transducer to enable detection of multi-step tightening.
Other Benefits of Investing in High-Quality Tools
Having high-quality tools in your production line is an indication of your company’s capability to deliver excellent and reliable products. It is something you can leverage to drum up business by integrating this information in your sales literature.
In addition, you would be able to assure potential clients that, with your reliable manufacturing process, you could deliver the products that they need at the time that they need it.
How Can Atlas Copco Help?
Despite increasing automation, reliable manual drilling is still needed for the fuselage, final assembly and the aerospace industry in general. Hence, there is every reason to invest in manually operated drills for the foreseeable future. Atlas Copco offers many types of high-quality tools to suit every drilling need, especially for working in cramped or tight spaces where automated machines are deeply lacking.
We have the drill for every task, we have the solution to every need. Speed up each step of aircraft assembly with Atlas Copco’s superior aerospace tools, contact us now.
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