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Predicting shim gaps in aircraft assembly with machine learning and sparse sensing

by   Krithika Manohar, et al.
University of Washington

A modern aircraft may require on the order of thousands of custom shims to fill gaps between structural components in the airframe that arise due to manufacturing tolerances adding up across large structures. These shims are necessary to eliminate gaps, maintain structural performance, and minimize pull-down forces required to bring the aircraft into engineering nominal configuration for peak aerodynamic efficiency. Gap filling is a time-consuming process, involving either expensive by-hand inspection or computations on vast quantities of measurement data from increasingly sophisticated metrology equipment. Either case amounts to significant delays in production, with much of the time spent in the critical path of aircraft assembly. This work presents an alternative strategy for predictive shimming, based on machine learning and sparse sensing to first learn gap distributions from historical data, and then design optimized sparse sensing strategies to streamline data collection and processing. This new approach is based on the assumption that patterns exist in shim distributions across aircraft, which may be mined and used to reduce the burden of data collection and processing in future aircraft. Specifically, robust principal component analysis is used to extract low-dimensional patterns in the gap measurements while rejecting outliers. Next, optimized sparse sensors are obtained that are most informative about the dimensions of a new aircraft in these low-dimensional principal components. We demonstrate the success of the proposed approach, called PIXel Identification Despite Uncertainty in Sensor Technology (PIXI-DUST), on historical production data from 54 representative Boeing commercial aircraft. Our algorithm successfully predicts 99% of shim gaps within the desired measurement tolerance using 3% of the laser scan points typically required; all results are cross-validated.


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