Retrofit Robot Packages – Can they help deliver growth for the Aerospace sector?


The 2021 edition of PwC’s ‘Global Aerospace and Defense: Annual Industry Performance and Outlook’ shares key performance metrics of the global commercial aerospace and defence industry drawn from the 100 largest companies by revenue. With civil aircraft production set to ramp up and new challenges in the defence arena, the supply chain will need to keep pace.

According to the report Boeing has more than 400 737 MAX aircraft in inventory to deliver and has stated plans to ramp up production of that model to 31 per month in 2022. Airbus also plans to increase production of A320s to 45 per month by the end of the year. The Biden administration looks to increase military spending, while Europe’s elevated levels of terror threat and continuing tensions with Russia means defence budgets are expected to grow. The UK, Germany and France all confirmed their intention to reinforce their defence capabilities. However, this may not result in a large number of new programmes. Instead, the requirement will be to rapidly develop new intelligence and cyber capabilities.

Managing Director of REM Systems, UK and Eire agents for the Swiss automation specialist, Ian Holbeche, explains: “The long-term forecast for commercial aerospace appears very positive. Just consider, for example, that 82% of the global population has yet to set foot in an aircraft, and, with the global middle class projected to grow from 25% to 60% by 2030, there is an enormous untapped segment of new customers. This adds up to a significant increase in the delivery demands placed on the supply chain – our customers.”

He continues: “Retrofitting an EROWA Robots to an existing lathe, machining centre, mill-turn or even a combination of these machines in a cell will allow any machine shop to operate effectively around-the-clock. And, you do not even have to pay for holidays, sickness, overtime, employee contributions so the benefits quickly add up.”

For just a small investment an EROWA Robot Easy or Robot Compact 80 can achieve a very quick payback. Efficient productivity, flexibility and process reliability are more important than ever in these difficult times. Making the most of the available production time the business already has will keep any company competitive and ensure promised delivery schedules are achieved.

The EROWA Robot Easy 250 offers a small footprint, from only 3 m² (1.7 by 1.7 m). The Robot Compact 80 fits within a 2 m² footprint and can lift up to 80 kg. Both Robots are suitable for side and frontloading installations making them flexible enough to fit into any available shopfloor space.

Everything required to ensure the automation system runs perfectly is included in the Retrofit Package. It comprises of an Air Dock System that allows 5-axis machines without a compressed air supply for the chuck on the machine table to be reliably automated; a Robodoor for machines without an automatic door and the dimensions of the door are optimally adapted to suit the machine; and machine preparation of the interfaces between the machine and the handling robot which are configured to suit the application.

Automation training is also taken care of. After installation and setting-up of the Retrofit Robot Package employees will receive comprehensive training in the correct use of the new automation system to ensure the business gains the expected benefits. Ongoing support will also be provided when required, such as when new staff are expected to support the automation.


An optional addition to the package is the EROWA JobManager JMS 4.0 ProductionLine, the universal production process control system for many machining operations. This practical online process control system provides automatic management of machines and loading robots. Within the overall concept of Industry 4.0, EROWA’s production process control system occupies an important position. It maps a large part of the functionalities that fall under the heading of ‘smart factory’.

This provides machine shops using chip-cutting production with significant advantages: it provides a clear view at all times of every workpiece being processed, their exact locations and how far into the process each is in real-time. It links up all the data and controls the entire production process. Its software connects machines with the widest variety of manufacturing technologies without any problems.

Ian Holbeche states: “By using automated loading, a machining centre typically runs much more economically. The hourly output increase by a factor of three or more. So, hourly machine rates can be reduced thereby improving competitiveness.”

Putting forward a simplified calculation that highlights the benefits of the Retrofit Robot Package, he says: “If we compare a CNC machine tool investment of £300,000 against the additional investment of £85,000 required for the retrofit package. Without automation on a single shift with an operator the machine has 1,500 available hours. The overhead cost will be around £80 per hour with an earning or charge out rate of £100 per hour the payback period is around 6 years, a 9% ROI.

“With the robotic automation and the same single shift operator, the machine’s available hours increase to 5,800 per year. This reduces the overhead cost to around £35 per hour and allows the business to reduce the charge out rate to £70 per hour, thereby increasing the competitiveness of the business. This results in a payback period of less than 2 years which equates to an ROI of over 80%.”

Of course, every application is different but exact calculations for any machine shops ROI can be provided by REM Systems’ experienced staff. As Ian Holbeche concludes: “Given the current extended waiting times for new machine tools, that could lead to capacity shortfalls that could be addressed by the EROWA Retrofit Robot Package. Robotic automation also supports the current environmentally conscious principles of making the most of what you have already got – effectively making more with less.”

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