When you walk into the factories at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona, don’t be surprised to find robots working side-by-side with humans on the production lines. These automated workers have long had a place in other industries such as automotive, but thanks to some significant investments in manufacturing, the world’s largest missile maker has made the move to automation.
“We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the last few years to upgrade and modernize our factories,” said Kim Ernzen, Vice President, Raytheon Missile Systems Operations. “Robots are now performing lower level, repeatable tasks such as applying glue to the lens of a missile seeker.”
A seeker is the electronic eye that helps the weapon guide to the target. Applying glue to the seeker lens is just one of many tasks that robots are now doing at Raytheon. Robotic arms are also lifting missile components in and out of test chambers and moving missile parts from one part of the factory floor to the other.
But, Why Robots?
“They’re perfect for jobs that require a high level of precision, but not a lot of thought,” said Ernzen. “By giving these tasks to robots, we can free up our talent touch labor force for more complex work such as installing wire harnesses.”
In the missile business, there’s no margin for error. The end-product has to be perfect. Using robots for those repeatable tasks helps to increase reliability and drive down costs. That’s a win/win for the warfighters who depend on Raytheon products to give them an unfair advantage in the fight so they can return home safely to their families.
Robotics technology has made great strides in recent years. The equipment is far more precise and far more sophisticated than it was just a decade ago. That’s enabled Raytheon to install robotic arms in places that just weren’t feasible until now.
Robots are also a lot cleaner. That’s important because many of those repeatable tasks are performed in cleanrooms where there’s no room for dirt!
Safety is and has always been a big concern in missile production. Robots are helping there too.