Taking the Laser Tracker on Tour to Customer Sites (Eurocopter)


European aircraft manufacturer Eurocopter uses a Tracker 3, which provides the efficiency and portability necessary to take it to customer ites for tooling and service work. The tracker 3 provides much greater accuracy and speed than the gauges the technicians were using previously.

Eurocopter, manufacturer of the world’s largest fleet of civil and military helicopters, relies stringently on the most advanced laser metrology in its plant in Donauwörth. A T3 laser tracker is the most recent purchase. This system accompanies the Tooling team on their assignments throughout Europe.

Laser metrology using a laser tracker has a long tradition at Eurocopter, starting in 1999 with the deployment of a first system in the Tooling, Production & Service area, which is primarily responsible for forms, tools and large construction equipment for subassemblies. Laser-based measurement systems were relatively unknown at that time, and consequently they were initially only employed in the manufacturing area. But soon laser metrology’s widespread potential became apparent. Eurocopter bought a second system only two years later. The systems were also increasingly put to use for inspection activities. Once again, the Tooling area was the starting point, which has three systems harnessing the most advanced measurement technology today. These systems are helping handle measuring jobs throughout the entire group, in a number of countries and on a number of aircraft, in both stationary and mobile use.

The transition to gaugeless production at Eurocopter led to a considerable increase in the demand for measurement systems that could also handle three-dimensional measurement. The trend towards larger and larger aircraft has also resulted in an increase in the size and weight of the construction equipment at Eurocopter, adding to the complexity of the metrological jobs. And of course the size of the components themselves has also increased -the carbon bottom shell for the NH 90 helicopter measures 3 x 6 meters, and the equipment for manufacturing it is considerably larger. Today, Eurocopter relies on laser trackers to solve its metrological assignments, and not only thanks to their unsurpassed ability to take highly precise three dimensional measurements of larger pieces. The latest generation of trackers offers mobility, making them indispensable for portable use in the tooling area. The same advantage holds true for aircraft construction in general, and wherever there is a need to measure large parts with a high level of precision.

Eurocopter has more than 250 larger pieces of stationary manufacturing equipment that must be periodically measured, no matter where they are located. This work is performed by teams of one or two experts from the Tooling area who are responsible for using the laser tracer at the particular location.

Laser measurement systems are still based on the same principle, but the design and consequently the outer dimensions have undergone fundamental changes. While the first generation devices were still rather cumbersome and, above all, large and heavy, the latest device classes are, depending on the manufacturer, only half as large and weigh only a fraction as much as their predecessors. For example, the latest laser-based measurement system in the Eurocopter measurement fleet, a T3 laser tracker from API, tips the scales at a mere 8.5 kg, with a head height of 36cm. This allows it to be packed in the luggage and taken along on flights. Even with all its accessories, it easily fits into the trunk of a medium-size vehicle.

The portability of this measurement system was decisive for the selection of the API system in the framework of the benchmark with all suppliers, because the tracker was principally to accompany teams on their journeys. The size and weight of the two systems from a competitor that Eurocopter already had in its possession made travel by air impossible.

Eurocopter primarily employs this tracker in mobile use, while the other systems predominantly remain stationary in one location. Their assignments take the team from the Tooling, Production and Service area all over the world. Sometimes the customer wants to calibrate components and conduct periodic(plannable) examinations of the equipment. Globalization in this special aviation sector has happily led to larger lot sizes, with an order’s value creation being spread across a number of countries. For example, body segments are produced in Spain, while other parts originate in England, France or Germany. The required manufacturing equipment comes from Donauwörth for the most part, and consequently the care of this equipment is also based there.

Unforeseen problems present special challenges that call for especially swift response. This is why the ability to be able to dispense with shippers for the measurement systems in the new tracker generation is a great advantage. The cost savings are considerable, but even more important is the fact that this uncomplicated transport means that the system is available even immediately before and after a trip, allowing effective utilization.

The emphasis that its services are not limited to global metrological activities is an important factor for the Tooling team. “External service providers could also handle purely metrological assignments where necessary” states Albert Wostrschil from the Tooling, Production and Service area at Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH.

“The jobs that we are called upon to do almost always involve more, and the actual measuring is only a small portion of the solution the customer expects. We make the connection between the cause and effect much faster, because after all, it is our own manufacturing equipment that we are measuring, adjusting and optimizing. Often what is demanded, and what we provide, is the troubleshooting, optimization and documentation of the final status within all specified tolerances.”

The global support offered by the Tooling area goes beyond helicopters. The range of assignments is varied, and has included the measurement of sleep containers for Airbus crews. The specialists from the Tooling area also include machine compensation in their standard repertoire, and not only for the machine tools, but also for the machining tools, such as for large plastic parts or ultrasound robots that guarantee100% inspection of all carbon fiber elements of the aircraft.

A breakthrough in gaugeless manufacturing

A laser tracker is a more or less mobile measurement system that uses a laser beam to provide three-dimensional, contactless measurement of large devices or elements. The laser beam reflected from a mirror prism placed into a measuring sphere (target) is evaluated with regard to the signal’s delay and the laser tracker’s head position, allowing the calculation of the measurement point’s 3D coordinates in space. The technician manually guides the targe t itself over the part to be measured, and the laser tracker automatically follows the movement. All structures, geometries and surfaces with the tracker’s range of vision can be measured. Modern laser trackers have operating ranges of up to 120 meters. Laser trackers helped create a breakthrough in gaugeless manufacturing, because they made precise 3Dmeasurements during assembly and production possible for the first time. The compact API laser measurement system’s high mobility level is a major reason that it is no longer necessary to keep these measurement systems intended for 3D-measurements of larger components and equipment on hand locally. Their unrestricted transportability allows team-oriented use at the site, no matter how faraway this site is. A central service department such as Tooling at Eurocopter in Donauwörth is consequently very effectively able to guarantee periodic certification of a large number of pieces of manufacturing equipment throughout Europe in connection with a limited utilization of personnel and material.


The Eurocopter Group was created in 1992 with the merger between the helicopter divisions of Aerospatialematra (France) and Daimler Chrysler Aerospace (Germany). For more than 50 years, Eurocopter has been the forefront of innovation. Numerous advantages have made Europcopter the world’s number one helicopter manufacturer and have allowed its helicopters to set impressive records.