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Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF Final Assembly

Fort Worth, TX

With an aging fleet of fighters, the U.S. Department of Defense (and their international partners) needed a new next-generation, multi-role fighter that was as affordable as it was lethal. The resulting F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin, in Fort Worth, TX, who called on AIT, as their prime contractor, to deliver an automated Electronic Mate and Assembly System – or EMAS.

 

Achievements

  • Met affordability challenge with AIT technology, integration, and equipment
    • Supporting three aircraft variations, significantly reduced labor and equipment costs with its flexible assembly automation
  • Delivered superior quality in final assembly by successfully integrating Laser Tracker technology
    • First test plane close to that of a production quality aircraft
    • "Stealth signature" of aircraft maintained with clean lines
  • Accelerated speed to market and military advantages from curtailed cycle and ramp-up times

 

Electronic Mate and Assembly System

AIT developed its Electronic Mate and Assembly System to perform the final mating of the JSF forward, center, and aft fuselage assemblies as well as the wing assembly. Its engineers designed the assembly stations with the flexibility to mate the three F-35 variants called for in the contract: the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C, each manufactured for specific uses by the military. With three variations being assembled on the same line, the goal of affordability was easily met because tooling costs for each aircraft were eliminated. 

Quality construction was also critical to the cost-containment objectives set by the DOD. Two major factors contributed to the superior quality and processes in the F-35 assembly: 

  • Laser Trackers in the AIT EMAS guided the positioners into a precise mating configuration for each aircraft component.
  • EMAS software mated the components in virtual space before the actual physical mating occurred.

Because of the incredibly accurate automated measurements, the assembly schedule was also reduced, resulting in additional time and cost savings. In fact, the first test plane boasted near-production quality and its required "stealth signature." 

The F-35 JSF project was the first at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility to employ this type of automated system.  AIT technology helped accomplish the U.S. DOD’s overall goal of creating the most advanced stealth fighter to date while reducing costs and achieving affordability. 

Our expert coordination equates into a competitive advantage in time to market and cost containment for our Aerospace partners.

 

System Features

AIT designed all of the technology incorporated into the EMAS to increase speed of production and improve quality. Using state-of-the-art technology, laser tracking, and planned indoor GPS, the EMAS facilitated aircraft alignment join by precisely locating parts and controlling aircraft geometry.

  • 16 positioners
    • Included 3 integrated Laser Trackers each
    • Automatically measured key features to ensure precise alignment
    • Confirmed tolerances before errors occurred
    • 4 major subassemblies (forward, center, aft, wings)
  • Specialized control and graphical user interface (GUI) software
    • Software allowed operator to assign weights or alignment priorities to measured points
    • User friendly GUI

Each positioner, effectively a three-axis machine, functioned to support the F-35 JSF subassemblies and smoothly move them in a linear fashion as well as rotationally. The use of lasers allowed for real-time measurements to confirm tolerances and validate design, leading to a more efficient, rapid, and accurate procedure. This improved method of assembly was controlled through the use of the GUI and/or joystick, making the system exceedingly user friendly.

The flexible, automated systems provide faster tool setup times, faster positioning of assemblies, and fewer hard tooling reconfigurations than conventional tooling – all benefits to Lockheed Martin and the military.

 

Project Highlights

  • AIT prime contractor/integrator - sole supplier to Lockheed Martin
  • Total of 5 assembly lines
  • Positioning of 4 major subassemblies for final assembly
  • 16 positioners with specialized controls and graphical user interface software
  • Assembly positioning accomplished by Laser Tracker feedback
  • AIT technology improved fuselage quality and sped production > 4,000 backlog
2805 E. Plano Pkwy, Suite 100 | Plano, TX 75074  | (972) 423-8354