Aerospace Meets Automation 

An easy-to-customize secondary operation tube-finishing, collaborative robot system that accurately measures, cuts, and deburrs bent tubing within tight tolerances, all without the need for operator intervention or expensive fixtures.


A large Fortune 500  manufacturing client expressed to Realtime that they had a need to create a robotic workcell to precisely trim to length intricately bent tubes used for the aerospace industry. The present process used expensive hard tooling that required extensive manual labor.


MILA offers a fixtureless solution with cohesive systems intelligence that removes the manual process entirely. Not only does she increase productivity, but also high-quality control and ease of use!. The system automation includes 3D laser scans, quality control verification, high precision tube cutting, programmable data sheet, and customizable finishing.


These collaborative robots and integrated vision systems follow ANSI/RIA R15.06 protocols, creating a fixtureless, high-precision cut and finish along with the automated QC process which allows inline cut verification and tube acceptance. 


Our customer has been in the aircraft hydraulic industry for a number of years. Traditionally, rigid fixtures, hold-down clamps, and hard tooling have been required for each tubing geometry, and human operators were required to manually measure, cut, and finish the tubing pieces. 

Overall, the fixturing was expensive, and the human operations were time-consuming, prone to human error, and it was a potentially dangerous job for the operators who could injure themselves on saws and deburring tools.


Our team set out to provide automated, hands-free secondary operation tube finishing and work cell customization. The need was to develop a more efficient system to handle intricately pre-bent metal tubing and execute  precise cuts on an already mostly automated assembly line. The challenge was that the solution needed to be easy to operate, customizable, and fully automated for speedy production and maximum efficiency.


The desire to automate this highly repetitive task has been present for some time, but it is surprisingly complex to identify, measure, and accurately cut a bent tube with such precise geometry specifications. 


MILA answers this challenge with an easy-to-customize bent tubing’s secondary operation with integrated vision systems that follow ANSI/RIA R15.06, MILA effectively and efficiently creates a cohesive, versatile, highly reliable, and safe process. This system automation includes 3D laser scans, quality control verification, high precision tube cutting, and customizable finishing, all while removing user error and safety hazards. MILA deburrs and squares the finished cut, all without the need for operator intervention or expensive fixtures.


Our solution included upgrading pneumatic actuators to gain better control over motion during cutting and finishing the tubes. This meant there was a major focus on the system calibration. The system had to achieve better accuracy for cutting tubing using a saw type, all while reducing errors. Taking into account that this robot would replace an operator, the station safety systems had to be carefully evaluated as well. Overall, Realtime provided a flexible platform with a novel way for the end operator to easily load and cut a wide range of tubes made from Inconel, an extremely tough metal.


The system testing process we utilized for MILA featured scanning of the tube for cutting and bending, along with cut repeatability for each production tube type. Realtime had to verify that the machine cut the tube at the correct location and maintained a quality cut. With a variety of tubing of varying sizes, Realtime had to test several different tubes to ensure cutting would be accurate. It was vital to design a blade of the proper material, lubrication, tooth design, and automated control of the saw to ensure accuracy. 


1. Using 3D CAD data provided by the tubing manufacturer, an operator programs the geometry into the system to generate a virtual fixture, which provides the safety and precision of a fixture based on hard tooling but that leverages a 6-axis collaborative robot to eliminate the need for custom fixtures for each tubing geometry. This virtual fixture is stored in the system and can be recalled anytime that particular tubing geometry needs to be manufactured.


2. An operator loads a bent tube into MILA for additional processing.

3. Using the 6-axis robotic function MILA uses a 3D scanner laser to scan the tubing geometry. This allows MILA to determine where the tubing is in space, calculate how to position the tubing to achieve cutting and finishing, and allow for automated post-cut visual inspection and dimensional quality check.

4. The high-precision vision system then places the tubing precisely within a saw built into the MILA system and makes the finished cut.

5. MILA automatically squares and deburrs the tubing per the configured settings.

6. When finished, MILA presents the finished tubing to the operator.


MILA’s challenge to Realtime was creating a device that would properly grip, move, measure, and finish an already intricately bent tube in a confined amount of space on the production line. 


The tube would need to be scanned and cut by a saw that wouldn’t move during cutting and finishing. MILA had to grip with enough force to prevent the tube from rotating. This required analyzing many different bent tubes and correctly placing the cut on both ends. With such a wide range of part numbers and shapes, it made the process more difficult. 


Not only was the calibration and detailing of getting MILA to work with bent tubes, but also the type of metal that was being cut. A method had to be developed that would allow for reliable cutting of Inconel and allow the customer to perform quality control checks on those tubes.


MILA replaces the old system of manually inserting metal tubes to be finished by an operator with a completely automated system. MILA led Realtime to truly understand what it means to integrate into a fully automated work system. This was our customer’s first automated workspace unit with the ultimate goal of the robot pairing with other units within the production line. MILA’s impact goes beyond just what she was created to do.


This new automated process allows for:


Increased Safety

Reduce user error, safety hazards, and production downtime with collaborative robots and highly customizable automation.



MILA is easily customizable thanks to Realtime’s cohesive systems intelligence and advanced vision system.


Increased Productivity

Workflow efficiency, precision, and throughput are increased because of the fixtureless construction, programmable actions, and seamless systems communication.


The future is bright for MILA, our customers, and the capabilities it has for many other industries and future customers. Although MILA’s original intention was to work in the aerospace field, it has the capability to impact several other industries including oil and gas, HVAC, and food and beverage.

With MILA being a great success, there is a potential to build additional systems for other manufacturing lines as well as produce similar products using MILA’s unique cutting and finishing capability and extremely precise automated analytic technology. MILA’s processes can also be transferred to different needs of future customers including visual inspection aspects, cutting different metals, automation services, and more.