SR Technics has announced plans to partner with New Zealand-based Invert Robotics to use the company’s mobile climbing robots for enhancing aircraft maintenance inspections. The robots feature a patented mechanism to explore the surface of an aircraft and assess the need for maintenance, which the companies say will enable more efficient visual inspections. According to SR Technics, these automated inspections can help reduce an aircraft’s inspection time from hours to mere minutes, freeing aircraft engineers to manage other tasks.
The remote-controlled robots adhere to an aircraft surface using a patented suction mechanism, which allows for inspections on both wet and upside-down surfaces. An onboard high-resolution video camera records images that are then sent to a ground-based screen where maintenance staff can analyze them and assess whether a repair is needed. The images can also be used as a record of an aircraft’s current state for future comparisons.
Invert Robotics says the robot’s capabilities can be enhanced with functionality such as ultrasound and thermographic testing, which further frees up maintenance staff’s time and reduces cost.
According to Jakob Straub, SR Technics’ head of aircraft services and line maintenance, the robotic technology will improve safety by providing alternatives to staff working at height. He says the inspection robots will also benefit customers through quicker and more accurate inspection results.
“Time savings mean our customers have their aircraft back in service sooner, and for airlines that is a huge benefit,” says SR Technics CEO Jeremy Remacha. “Being able to record the state of an aircraft proves the need for and quality of our work and allows more accurate scheduling of required maintenance.”
SR Technics will use the robots to carry out inspections on aircraft fuselage, wings, control surfaces and stabilizers. The company plans to incorporate the inspections gradually into its base and line maintenance operations by Q2 2018, with plans to expand them to base maintenance facilities once additional non-destructive adaptation is developed. Invert Robotics says training to operate the robots is quick and can be completed in a couple days’ time. According to Neil Fletcher, managing director at Invert Robotics, there are future plans to automate certain inspection types.
Fletcher says a number of airlines and industry players are currently evaluating the company’s robotics technology. The company ran trials of the technology for aircraft inspections with Air New Zealand in 2016, which Fletcher says were extremely successful. “We are hoping to continue our work with Air New Zealand in the future as additional capabilities are added which meet their requirements,” he says.