Robotics and other automated technologies are becoming an increasingly regular sight in the world of manufacturing. Although some way behind in terms of adoption, a similar shift is slowly developing in the world of aviation maintenance.
With a desire for better efficiencies as well as lightening the burden placed on manual labor, the potential of robotics for inspections is being explored by a number of OEM service divisions and airline maintenance providers in the form of innovative trial projects with the technology.
Typically, robotics are employed for inspection purposes on engines, and it is in the engine segment where companies have been particularly active in their robotics-related activities.
GE Aviation’s June 2017 acquisition of UK-based OC Robotics was a sign of intent which according to Lance Herrington, integration leader for GE Aviation overseeing the integration of the company, will be integrated into its services division in due course.
“This acquisition also will help change the way GE supports customers on the ground with on-wing engine repair and inspection,” he told MRO-Network.com.
Going beyond mere inspections – and into the realms of full repairs – is seen by some as the next step in the technology’s development in MRO. Rival engine maker Rolls-Royce is looking to achieve this through deploying robotics to replicate the role of engineers out in the field undertaking on-wing repairs.
The aim of this, according to James Kell, a technologist working on on-wing projects at its Derby headquarters, is to spare the limited number of specialists dispatched across the world to send back images to the OEM while ultimately reducing the on-wing repair process.
With airlines including easyJet and Air New Zealand embarking on innovation projects encompassing drones for aircraft inspection and remote-controlled inspection equipment for damage detection respectively, new developments on the airframe side will inevitably be forthcoming.
Never one to shy away from embracing the new, Lufthansa Technik is also working on a number of projects based around auto inspection covering engine components.
These include using robotics to identify cracks on engine components and an automated process chain process for repairs to combustor components, typically those found on the outer liner of CFM56-5B and -7B engine types.
According to the German MRO, further developments around these projects can be expected to be announced in the autumn.
Read about robotics for maintenance work in the August issue of Inside MRO.