The Future of Reflector Manufacturing Is Automation
In 1913, Henry Ford launched the first moving assembly line, revolutionizing the production of automobiles and successfully providing inexpensive transportation on a massive scale. According to Ford’s website, the new process simplified the assembly of the Ford Model T’s 3,000 parts and dropped assembly time for a single vehicle from 12 hours to about 90 minutes. This, with the accompanying savings in manpower, enabled Ford to decrease the car’s price from $850 to less than $300. The success was evident in sales – 15 million Model Ts were sold during its 19-year production from 1908 until 1927.
At L3Harris, we believe that taking a page from Ford’s playbook will help us streamline manufacturing processes, making the production of antenna solutions cheaper, better, faster, and more efficient. Our drive to innovate and implement new ideas that meet customer needs is how we’ve earned the reputation as the most experienced unfurlable mesh manufacturer in the world. This year, we’re celebrating the assembly of our 100th unfurlable mesh reflector.
Speed of delivery and affordability are key as more customers look for low or medium Earth orbit satellites bought in constellations. L3Harris is anticipating building reflectors at a rate we’ve never thought about before – as quickly as one every 15 days versus months or even years. Automation and process control will get us there and will help us bring solutions to market quickly and at the best value without sacrificing quality.
By standardizing our assembly stages, we can stock common parts and speed up production time while keeping our solutions highly customized. Surface accuracies differ from reflector to reflector based on customer requirements, yet the way we set up surface areas can be done universally. Standardizing the setup establishes repeatable steps that we can improve over time, thereby minimizing risk and increasing our ability to meet schedule and cost requirements.
Automating manufacturing processes – especially labor-intensive or specialized activities – offers many benefits, such as improved quality and worker safety, lower operating costs, and faster return on investment. Consider reflector panel assembly. Currently, our technicians piece together panels by laying on platforms suspended above the flight material to reduce physical contact with the mesh and hardware. Automating this task will enable our technicians to work on other hardware from the ground and will reduce our reliance on a handful of technicians for specific tasks.
Our space antenna reflector production facility is one of the largest of its kind in the world. We are evaluating the use of a grid system to maximize space. By changing our facility layout and enabling more parallel paths of assembly, we believe we can increase production and minimize risk by reducing the number of times technicians move delicate parts, like mesh and booms.
We are also exploring time-saving measures within manufacturing support services. We are reducing potential instances of human error by digitizing our manufacturing and execution system, which monitors and controls data flows on the factory floor. A digital system enables technicians and engineers to more easily access assembly instructions from a mobile device. Teams can rely on digital images and instructions that clearly show various processes rather than flipping through a paper system and interpreting handwritten notes.
By making these types of improvements, we are in a stronger position to respond quickly to changing customer needs.
Find out more about our one-of-a-kind production facility by watching this video.