"We placed 4th in the live competition which turned out to be an incredible achievement for the team. We were the in the top four in the world! We competed against master's and doctorate level finalists and we also had the best self-built robot, meaning we did not use any commercial robotic arms in our drilling solution."
With a back order of almost 7000 aircraft, Airbus is constantly looking to accelerate the process of innovation by automating the manufacturing process. This led to the Airbus Shopfloor Challenge. The challenge was to design a lightweight and modular robotic solution for drilling as many holes as possible on an aluminum panel with both positional and diametric accuracy. The system would need to be on an open source program with zero data transmission during the drilling rounds. The panel is shown on the left.

The panel included three block patterns and an area of high-constrained holes, surrounded by protruding dowel pins which made the holes difficult to reach. There are also three reference holes that are predrilled to allow the robotic solution to optically calibrate to the proper starting position. In addition, each drilling round would have the panel oriented at a new angle which added several design challenges.
R3 initiated the project on February of 2016. The team fabricated a preliminary design and built a prototype for an initial video submission to Airbus. From these submissions, Airbus would select seven finalists to travel to Sweden for the live competition. After receiving word that the team made it to the finals late March, several revisions were made which required the design team to completely redesign the robot to accommodate both new rules and many of the new geometric challenges with the jig fixture that was introduced by Airbus. R3 buckled down to tackle what proved to be an ambitious project.
The jig fixture design:
Following an intense and rigorous four weeks, the team managed to redesign, build, test, and ship a 7-point gantry drilling solution to compete in Stockholm before the May deadline. Seven was determined to be the optimal number to traverse the panel with the least amount of movement from the drilling housing. The robot’s unique gang drilling process enabled the robot to always be drilling seven times faster than the other finalists, which in return resulted in more holes drilled on the panel.
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In Stockholm, the first day was dedicated for setup, but the robot’s shipping process was delayed, pushing the team back in preparation. This caused the first drilling round to end in disaster. During the setup day, the microcontroller mini USB port had snapped off in shipping, preventing communication to the robot, proving no way to reprogram. After some deliberation and hunting around for a Swedish microcontroller, a transplant was performed with some success, allowing the continuation to debug some minor issue with setup. A demo round during setup determined that two of the seven finalists were not able to actually drill, thus disqualifying them from the finals. The robot failed to drill any holes in round one, instead the time was spent debugging electronics and programming as well as preparing for round two.

The next round would be an elimination round, reducing the finalists to four. Round two was met with a better performance, in fact the highest scoring of the finalists. The first half of the round was slow, time was spent calibrating and debugging. After the gang drill was brought up and running, the robot proved to be a success, the drilling speed garnering much deserved attention. Unfortunately about halfway through the panel, the team were met with a mechanical breakdown that crippled the robot to only four-point drilling, a loss of almost half the power.

The impressive display secured R3 a spot as one of the four finalists, however, R3 had to compete in the final round with the reduced power. The final round was initiated, and the team started calibrating and drilling, but the hole patterns was off. The mechanical setup prior to the start of the round for this particular panel orientation was improper, forcing  the team to reprogram and recalibrate on the fly in order to get the holes where they needed to be. In addition, the team were met with another mechanical breakdown which cost time.

R3 left the competition with the title of being 4th in the world, an incredible achievement for the team. R3 competed against masters and doctorate level finalists, and proved to be a strong contender. R3’s robot was also self-built, meaning that no commercial robotic arms were used, making the achievement much more impressive. From simply a concept sketched in the team's notebooks, the team managed to bring the concept to life to a Swedish conference center in front of thousands of attendees, judges, industry professionals and the finalists, all in four weeks. A big thank you to everyone at Airbus for giving R3 the chance to compete on the global stage and we look forward to attempting next year's Shopfloor Challenge!

-Eric Furtado & Mai Abdelhameed