Agile Assembly Architecture / Minifactory FAQ

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Q: What is Agile Assembly Architecture (AAA)?

A: AAA is an architectural framework we are developing that will allow manufacturers in the future to rapidly design, program, deploy and operate automated assembly systems.

Q: What is a minifactory?

A: Minifactory is a tabletop-size precision assembly system based on the principles of AAA that we are developing in the laboratory.

Q: How precise can assembly be done in a minifactory?

A: Our goal is to be able to perform parts assembly to accuracies of one micrometer anywhere within the factory. Courier motion resolution of 200 nm and vision-guided operations have achieved this result..

Q: Can assembly processes requiring more than four degrees of freedom be done in minifactory?

A: Minifactory is primarily oriented toward 4-DOF assembly. The occasional need for additional degrees of freedom can be satisfied by adding agents specifically designed for this purpose. In some cases, passive mechanisms added to standard agents can be effective..

Q: How rapidly can a minifactory be designed, set up, programmed, and operated?

A: We don't know yet. Our goal is to drastically reduce the time required to deploy an automated assembly system. We expect that in some cases this can be done within a week or so. Research is in progress to characterize actual typical results.

Q: What is a virtual factory?

A: AAA supports the creation of virtual assembly systems, or virtual factories, that can be rapidly designed and programmed to assemble virtual products. AAA contains automatic mechanisms for precisely registering and synchronizing virtual factories with real factories.

Q: What is an AAA agent?

A: An agent in AAA is an active modular piece of manufacturing equipment. Each AAA agent is mechanically, electrically, and algorithmically modular. Agents have their own computational resource and are capable of representing themselves as participants in an automated assembly system.

Q: What are examples of AAA agents?

A: In minifactory, product couriers, precision parts feeders, and overhead manipulators are all examples of AAA agents.

Q: Does AAA do automated factory layout or automated scheduling?

A: No. AAA supports a flexible set of user-oriented capabilities, accessible through its workstation-based interface tool. Future research is aimed at providing a greater degree of automated design and programming.

Q: What software operating systems are you using?

A: Our AAA interface tool is Linux-based, and uses Open Inventor graphics. Our minifactory agents use the QNX hard real time operating system.

Q: Why isn't your system Microsoft Windows compatible?

A: AAA/minifactory is a research project rather than a production system. We have selected stable, openly available software tools for our use. Possible future commercial deployment of our research results will consider alternative operating systems.

Q: How can we, as manufacturing equipment vendors, participate in AAA/minifactory development?

A: We welcome discussions with manufacturers of equipment such as precision screw drivers, adhesive dispensers, welders, orbital head formers, parts feeders, etc. Many process technologies can be modified to conform with AAA/minifactory specifications.

Q: How can we, as end-user product manufacturers, participate in AAA/minifactory development?

A: We welcome the opportunity to discuss your assembly system problems and future needs. In some cases we can analyze your assembly process and rapidly generate a custom virtual minifactory which can assemble a virtual version of your product.

Q: Why do the minifactory couriers have tethers? Doesn't this limit their usefulness in the factory? -B.C.

A. The tethers supply air, power, and signals to the courier. Careful attention to the factory design and programming is effective in reducing adverse effects of the tethers.

Q: The courier tethers drag on the platen surface which is likely to produce particulate contamination. How can these be used in a clean environment? -D.T.

A: To ensure the cleanest operation, attention must be payed to passively supporting the tether above the surface, filtering the courier air bearing supply, and arranging for the proper direction of horizontal clean air flow across the factory.

Q: Can the courier tethers be eliminated altogether?

A: In some cases, this may be possible. We are conducting research to identify technologies which will enable "cordless couriers" in the future. We have already designed and built cordless versions as a research project.

Q: Can we buy a minifactory, or buy minifactory components?

A: No. AAA/minifactory is a research project. We are currently discussing possible commercialization activities with industry.

Q: Can machining or other fabrication operations be done in minifactory?

A: Minifactory is primarily oriented toward precision assembly, including fastening operations. The main problem with machining or other "dirty" fabrication processes is the need for debris removal to avoid build-up on the platen surfaces.

Q: Could minifactory be used for chemical synthesis, analysis, or drug discovery?

A: We believe that much of what we have developed could, in principle, be applied to these areas. We welcome discussions with companies having these kinds of applications.