Invert Robotics has teamed up with U.S.-based non-destructive testing (NDT) specialist NDT Solutions to add NDT functionality to its aircraft inspection robots. The joint venture (JV) will collaborate on designs for physical attachments that can be implemented on Invert’s mobile climbing robots to supplement their high-resolution cameras, which are currently used to visualize and document an aircraft’s surface conditions.
Invert identified NDT as a key efficiency improvement it wanted to pursue after upgrading its robots with enhanced suction and speed in late 2018. According to the company, adding NDT functionality will reduce labor, improve safety and minimize tedious inspection processes, which will allow aircraft technicians to focus on more complex tasks.
“The unique technology that Invert brings is the ideal automated delivery platform for many of the NDT technologies already in use manually,” explains Larry Culbertson, COO, NDT Solutions. “Time savings mean cost savings and our aerospace customers will have their aircraft returned to service sooner utilizing this cost-effective inspection approach in a safer environment.”
NDT is currently used to detect surface and sub-surface cracks, corrosion, impact damage, lightning strikes and other types of irregularities on aircraft structures without the need to dismantle components. According to Invert, the JV will focus on array technology instead of a single probe for evaluations, which will enable users to capture more information in a single pass and dramatically increase the speed, accuracy and repeatability of non-destructive tests—particularly on large inspection areas.
The JV team has identified ultrasonic and eddy current array techniques as ideal NDT methods to complement the robots’ onboard video capabilities, which it says will allow for both surface and sub-surface examination. It is also evaluating NDT methods such as thermography for composites and moisture intrusion evaluations, and digital radiography for enhanced sub-surface ability. In addition, Invert says it expects to release a 3D dent measurement solution for use with the robot in 2020.
Since the NDT functionalities being investigated for use on the robots are already established and utilized within MRO, the JV team will need to prove that the results from robotic deployment are at least as good as current services being performed. Invert says this will vary depending on the NDT method and technique utilized with specific inspection tasks. However, it adds that the certifications NDT Solutions currently holds will significantly accelerate the process.
A representative for the JV says NDT Solutions’ mechanical engineering team has already adapted current industry-proven scanning capabilities to the robots, which are scheduled to begin inspection trials in Q1 2020. The JV expects to see customers using NDT applications with the mobile climbing robots starting next year.