CAWDE Drilling machine on a panel

Airbus A400M CAWDE

The CAWDE (Composite Automated Wing Drilling Equipment) is a custom 5-axis machine tool is constructed to enable fully automated drilling and slave-bolt insertion. The CAWDE has been used for fastening composite and metallic wing box components including composite wing covers drilled and bolted to composite spar assemblies and metallic ribs. In addition, metallic components such as engine pylon reinforcements are drilled by the machine.

The basic configuration of the machine is a traveling column post mill with a 5-axis head. The head provides gap-closing pressure and shuttles process tools to the tool point during drilling and fastening cycles. The machine travels the length of the wing assembly jig. The wing box is tooled in the jig with the forward spar and pylons located near the floor. After completing processing of one surface the machine is transported to the opposite surface of the wing box.

The operator station on the CAWDE is a ride-on platform to reduce operator fatigue. The platform is close to the tool point to enable good visibility of the machine operation. To minimize the machine envelope during transport, the platform folds up. A touchscreen HMI provides context-sensitive interaction with the control for the operator, reducing information overload.

Additionally, pertinent CNC information such as tool point position, operator messaging, and part program viewing are displayed on a second LCD monitor. A third display shows the camera views. Software for the camera system displays all views in split screen or zooms to magnify the optical resync camera view to full screen for best resolution. Other features at the operator station include shadow boxes with space for all tooling that is changed out by diameter, and the fastener feed drop tubes. A hold-to-run pendant may be used to jog the machine and start/stop part programs

The drilling process is supported by through-bit and external flood coolant systems and chip vacuum with coolant recovery. The machine is equipped with sensors and synchronization tools to help align the machine with varying geometry components. These include:


  • Fully automatic CNC control and data collection
  • 5-axis positioning within the entire wing skin envelope, 30m x 5m x 1m
  • Machine transporter to move the machine from jig to jig
  • Servomotor/ball screw joint pressure from 900-9000N (approx 200-2000lbf) during drilling and fastening
  • Drilling and countersinking holes for 1/4” to 3/4” diameter bolts through multi material stacks of carbon fiber, aluminum, and titanium
  • Automated hole diameter measurement of 1/4” to 5/8” diameter holes
  • Automatic detection of manually installed slave bolts prior to drilling
  • Automatic insertion of 1/4” to 5/8” diameter slave dowels for temporary fastening during the build
  • Space on the process shuttle table for a future process tool
  • Normality Sensors:
    • Track surface of wing skin
    • Provide feedback data to machine CNC
    • Allows head positioning to be normal to actual surface
  • Camera for manual resynchronization
  • Renishaw Touch Probe
    • Radio Frequency probe fits in drill spindle
    • Find hole centers
    • Determine Z position of a pad
    • Locate part edge
  • Thru Skin Sensor
    • Looks through the wing skin and finds the center of the magnetic field of magnets that are placed in pre-drilled pilot holes in the wing structure behind the wing skin