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Fully automated satellite-assembly lines? Not quite yet

13 Sep 2017, 09:16 UTC
Fully automated satellite-assembly lines? Not quite yet
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While robots began assisting and replacing assembly line workers in automobile and airplane factories years ago, humans still reign supreme in satellite manufacturing. But that’s slowly starting to change.
“For routine assembly process, we didn’t see the return on that given the quantity of operations we were performing.…It wasn’t high enough to really drive the need for too many robotics” — Brian Holz, OneWeb Satellites chief executive
In contrast to the millions of cars and thousands of airplanes produced annually, satellites — and geostationary telecommunications satellites in particular — are produced in much lower numbers. In a good year, the world’s satellite manufacturers might book a combined commercial 25 orders. That low volume limits the efficiency gained from industrial robots, at least on the ground.
“In terms of today, the uses for us are somewhat minimal,” said Tom Wilson, vice president of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group.
Orbital ATK mostly uses robotics to fit electronic boards with computer chips, Wilson said, which isn’t new for space or most other industries.
Like Orbital ATK, Space Systems Loral sees limited application for robots, despite averaging more telecom satellites per year.
“In our relatively low-volume, high-mix environment, the standard industrial robot doesn’t do ...

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