Aerospace Multi-Axis Flexible Tooling Machine
  • Vertical synchronized movement across all motors
  • Eliminate the need for an external controller
  • Minimize excessive part accumulation
Download PDF of this Application Note here.


Airplane fuselages and wings for the aviation, space and defense industries are made of 1mm-5mm thick aluminum composite or contoured aluminum and are designed to be both incredibly strong and lightweight. To create this “skin”, large metal panels must be contoured to specific dimensions for further processing such as milling, inspection, and laser scribing. These contours are created by aligning multiple actuators side-by-side onto a large platform and designating the positions of each actuator necessary to create each contour pattern. This “bed of nails” method also allows the metal panels to be held in position while windows and other necessary shapes are cut from the piece.


Traditionally, machines systems featured a network of pneumatic actuators that required a separate drive, motor, and actuator for each position, as well as a large control cabinet near the machine. These machine systems contain anywhere from 75-350 positions, requiring 75-350 separate drives, motors and actuators. The excessive part accumulation was necessary becasue all actuators needed to move in sync vertically from any position in order to hold the contour to prevent warping. Conventional methods for simultaneous addressing (echoing communication through each individual motor) caused delays which led to the contours being distorted.


By coupling Moog Animatics fully integrated SmartMotor (advanced motion controller integrated into servo motor, drive and encoder) onto each mechanical actuators, the new flexible tooling machines were able to accomplish 324 positions with only 160 actuators and 160 SmartMotors – a 49% reduction in parts. The SmartMotor’s 32Kbs of internal memory was loaded with preset positions, which eliminated the need for a controller cabinet. In addition, the SmartMotor’s Combitronic communication technology allowed for vertical synchronized movement in which the master SmartMotor communicated with all 159 other SmartMotors without delay.