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Northrop Grumman Demonstrates First Full-Size,Reconfigurable Tool For Metal Forming



DALLAS --- Northrop Grumman Corporation's Integrated Systems and Aerostructures Sector (ISA) demonstrated here today the first full-size, reconfigurable tool for forming aircraft sheet metal parts.
The goal of the Reconfigurable Tooling for Flexible Fabrication (RTFF) program is to reduce cycle time and costs in manufacturing complex aircraft parts. Project team members include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Northrop Grumman, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Alstom Pressure Systems. Approximately 50 industry representatives attended the demonstration.
Today's demonstration included forming three different parts in rapid succession. Within about 30 minutes, three parts with widely different shapes were produced.
"This reconfigurable tooling system will result in a simpler, more agile and lower-cost production environment for building aircraft parts,'' said John Papazian, program manager, Technology Development, Airborne Early Warning and Electronic Warfare Systems. Mr. Papazian heads ISA's cross-sector reconfigurable tooling system program.
"This lean technology could help make tomorrow's aircraft factory significantly more efficient and eliminate the use of a large percentage of the expensive 'dies' -- commonly called tooling -- now used to make sheet metal parts,'' added Mr. Papazian.
The RTFF is a production-scale machine that incorporates a "discrete-pin die'' system using a series of pins with hemispheric ends positioned by computer control. The ends become the working surface of the die and are arrayed in the shape of the desired sheet metal component. Changing the configuration of the pins takes less than 12 minutes and allows quick tool reshaping to build a different part or to correct its shape. A polymer blanket between the pins and the metal prevents dimpling during sheet-forming operations.
Half of the funding for the $14 million program was provided by DARPA. Other team members contributed the balance.
The first full-size version of the RTFF is housed at ISA's Dallas site, with smaller developmental versions located in Bethpage, N.Y. The team has previously demonstrated the capability to remotely run the system software from Bethpage or Dallas.
"The software worked in real time, calculating the position of each pin for the shape of the part and giving the machine instructions. The results were impressive,'' said Mr. Papazian.
Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems and Aerostructures Sector, headquartered in Dallas, is a premier aerospace systems integration enterprise. ISA has the capabilities to design, develop, integrate, produce and support complete systems, as well as airframe subsystems, for airborne surveillance and battle management aircraft, early warning aircraft, airborne electronic warfare aircraft, air combat aircraft, and commercial aerostructures.

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Northrop Grumman Demonstrates First Full-Size,Reconfigurable Tool For Metal Forming