A new robotics project seeks to develop a “universal inspection machine” with applications for aerospace and other industries. The SPIRIT project is bringing together eight scientific and industrial partners from Austria, Germany and Italy to develop a robotic inspection solution using a range of various inspection devices that will eliminate complications involved in programming a robot motion path. The project aims to reduce the engineering costs and time required in setting up inspection robots in industrial environments.
Working together on the project are FACC (an Austrian component specialist), IT+Robotics (an Italian company that designs and develops solutions for robotics and industrial automation), InfraTec (a German specialist in infrared technology), Voestalpine (a supplier of high-performance die-forged metal parts for aerospace and other industries), Profactor (an Austrian applied research company specializing in industrial assistive systems and additive micro/nano manufacturing), Marposs (an Italian specialist in inspection, measurement and process control solutions for industries including aerospace), Centro Richerche Fiat (CRF) (an Italian applied research center for the automotive industry) and the University of Padua.
According to InfraTec, the inspection robots being used today for quality control of complex-shaped parts using procedures such as 3D surface inspection, thermography or X-ray have different modes of operation and requirements for sensors, which must be considered in planning a robot’s path. InfraTec says this results in a time-consuming and expensive process when programming robots for an application-specific solution, particularly since the process usually needs to be carried out by specialists.
“The goal of the project, in line with our aim of advancing robotic solutions, is to replace the time-consuming and highly skilled task of robot programming with simply configuring the inspection task,” says Helmuth Hoeller, director of the NDT division at FACC. According to the company, the primary aim is to help move from resource-intensive programming to simple configuring of robotic tasks.
During the three-year project, which began earlier this year, the partners will look to develop a system solution that can be equipped with video cameras for surface inspection, thermal imaging cameras from InfraTec for crack detection, and X-ray and 3D sensors to check for completeness. The project will develop software to deal with challenges such as switching between different inspection technologies and inspecting new parts, which will enable the robot to perform automatic path planning for the various inspection tasks. A CAD model of the component and work cell will be fed into the system, which will automatically generate the robot’s inspection path dependent on the sensor system and inspection task involved.
FACC says that the robot will have the additional feature of being able to optimize the inspection process in real-time while it is running, so in the case of issues such as unknown deformations that are not accurately represented in the CAD model or slight mispositions of components, the required optimization will be performed spontaneously. During the demonstration phase at FACC, an inspection robot will be used to inspect a winglet starting with X-ray radiography before switching to active thermography. FACC says this will allow relevant areas to be subsequently subjected to a fast test, which will speed up the inspection process with multiple techniques. The company plans to integrate results of the project directly into its production workflow.
At Voestalpine subsidiary Bohler, the project will entail automating crack detection of forged high-performance parts for industries including aerospace using InfraTec’s high-end thermographic technology. A spokesperson for the company says it plans to build a pilot facility in Deuchendorf, Austria in 2020 to test this procedure extensively with several selected parts.
A spokesperson for FACC says, “The demonstration will be carried out in three phases with increasing difficulty at the three industrial partners (Fiat, FACC and Bohler in the same order) at the end of year one, two and three respectively.” She adds that planning of the demonstration is a long process and will likely last for the entire duration of the project. The setup of the demonstration and the demonstration itself will last one to two weeks, according to FACC.
The project, which is being funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, is scheduled to end in February 2021. Once results of the project are applied in the production workflow, FACC says it expects to save about $160,000 (140,000 euros) at the end of the first year and around $613,000 (540,000 euros) at the end of year five.