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LOGO: Queen's University Belfast

UK manufacture accounts for 13% of GDP, 50% of exports and directly employs 2.5 million people. Parallel Kinematic Machines (PKM) are a new type of machine tools and have been identified as a key technology that fills in the gap between computer numerical controlled machines and industrial robots due to their superior dynamic performance, flexibility and versatility to large-scaled parts machining. The use of PKMs creates more flexibility and dexterity in manufacturing processes while achieving high precision and high speed. This contributes significantly to the economy by improving efficiency, reducing product defects, and saving time/money/energy.

The PKM integrated manufacturing system would inevitably introduce errors due to stiffness and motion of the components in the system. These errors will be accumulated through the production chain, and influence the geometrical quality of the machined parts. Predicting part quality based on error propagation in the PKM manufacturing processes represents a step change in managing production processes, as it removes the current cumbersome trial-and-error processes and enables rapid reconfiguration of production systems. Other benefits would include 20% reduction of part defects and rework, leading to a significant cost saving.

Part quality resulted from interaction of manufacturing systems and machining processes, with intertwined machining errors and their propagation through multiple operations, machine tools, and fixtures and jigs. At the moment, there is no robust industrial or international standard to evaluate machining capability of PKM tools with these errors. Current trial-and-error based approach that requires a large amount of time, materials and energy, is not sustainable and suitable for future smart factories to meet frequent changes with reconfigurability. Therefore new analytical methods are urgently needed.

The proposed research is adventurous in creating a new quality prediction capability for PKM based flexible manufacturing processes by revealing the relationship between manufacturing system errors and part or assembly quality. This leads to an effective error discrimination control strategy to achieve a better process control while ensuring the required product quality.

Error propagation in a production process is to be explored by investigating the role of stiffness characteristics of a PKM in influencing the machining process. This will lead to the development of machining load-models in both milling and drilling on a specific machining process. Experiments are to be implemented at QUB's PKM laboratory and KCL PKM laboratory, and a map between errors and part quality is to be created through modeling and testing. This will deliver an enhanced understanding of errors and their propagation mechanism thereby leading to the identification of potential strategies for reducing individual, propagated, and residual errors.

An integrated validation system that consists of a kinematic/dynamic analysis module, kinetostatic model, CAD module, and FEM module will be implemented in a virtual environment and in a manufacturing site. The project will access expertise from world-leading groups in advanced PKM machining processes.

The research is highly transformative in its nature of connecting academic cutting-edge research to the practical issues encountered in complex PKM manufacture processes. Key results are to be generated and fundamental science is to be revealed in the collaborative work, training and workshops with support of AMRC, MTC and Tianjin University. The research will benefit the academic community in manufacture and robotics, and industrial sectors who will gain knowledge for reduction of errors particularly propagated errors in manufacturing processes integrated with PKMs.