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Robotic Drilling End Effector

An improved RDEE system which utilises linear motors for a lightweight, compact design with integrated force feedback and greater accuracy

Published: 21st March 2019
Robotic Drilling End Effector
Header image provided by The University of Sheffield


Since 1980 the commercial air travel industry has continued to grow at a rate of 5% annually. The demand for increased production efficiency has never been more fundamental to meet rising aircraft sales. The drilling of large quantities of repetitive holes within the manufacture of aircraft wing assemblies is considered one of the key bottlenecks with regards to production efficiency. The large aerospace companies can drill in excess of 40 million holes per year, approximately 80% of which are drilled manually by skilled operatives.

Manual drilling operations offer the high flexibility and dexterity required for manufacturing such complex components. But this comes at a cost with regards to cycle time, overall hole quality and necessary rework. The development of automation systems to replace manual operations is deemed essential to increase production efficiency and hole accuracy within the manufacturing processes. This is achieved through the development and implementation of robotic drilling systems, which are becoming more widely available.

Technology Overview

The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has developed an improved robotic drilling end effector (RDEE). The RDEE is different in the way it activates the linear axes of the spindle and the pressure foot, which is used to clamp onto the work piece. Conventional robotic end effectors achieve manipulation of the linear axes through the use of electromechanical or pneumatic actuation, the AMRC has developed a system which utilises linear motors, which provide some key features and benefits.

Figure 1, Figure 2.

Stage of Development

The RDEE has been designed and a prototype has been manufactured and tested.


The AMRC’s RDEE has the following benefits:

  • Integrated force feedback - resulting in cost effective force monitoring.
  • Lightweight - weighing less than 100 kg it can be used with a low payload robot.
  • Compact design - resulting in improved accessibility.
  • Accuracy - the direct drive eliminates positional error due to imperfections and backlash typically found within alternative mechanical drives. Positional accuracy has been tested to <10μm.


The device has been developed for use in aerospace manufacturing which is considered a key market. However, its benefits translate to any manufacturing market where robotic drilling is used.


The AMRC is a network of world-leading research and innovation centres working with advanced manufacturing companies around the globe. The AMRC transforms industrial and economic performance by making step changes in productivity, increasing competitiveness, developing new products and processes and training new talent and skills. The 100+ industrial members range from global giants like Boeing, Rolls-Royce, McLaren Automotive, BAE Systems and Airbus to small companies.

The AMRC is open to being flexible in its approach to this opportunity, and will consider licensing the existing design, or to work with co-development partners if the right opportunity presents itself. This opportunity would need a Non-Disclosure Agreement prior to detailed technical discussions with any interested parties.

  • Licensing
  • Development partner