Printed headline: Better Bots for MRO
1. Mobile Climbing Robots
Company: Invert Robotics
Specifications: New Zealand-based Invert Robotics makes mobile climbing robots that can traverse aircraft surfaces to provide visual inspections. The robots’ suction system allows them to adhere when upside down and to wet surfaces, lapped joints and surface discontinuities—such as windows and damaged surfaces. Invert Robotics says the robots provide a safer, quicker alternative to technicians working at height during visual inspections. The company is now targeting other applications such as cleaning and non-destructive testing (NDT). The latest version of the robot’s platform, set to hit the market this year, will allow for attaching payloads such as NDT sensors for thickness, crack and coating testing.
2. Safety and Quality-Control Robot
Company: ZAL GmbH
Specifications: The ZAL Centre of Applied Aeronautical Research is collaborating with Airbus to develop a robot called ZALamander that the aerospace OEM is hoping to use for safety purposes. The ZALamander, which began development in early 2018, can transport materials, carry out quality checks during production or maintenance and identify risks within safety zones. For instance, the robot could travel underneath cranes used during heavy-component production and sound an alarm if it detects workers in the area. Once ZAL completes its research project with Airbus, it hopes to look into other applications of ZALamander with industry customers and research partners.
3. Flexible Cobots
Company: Universal Robots
Specifications: Universal Robots specializes in collaborative robots—or “cobots”—providing flexible automation that can work in close proximity to humans. The company says its lightweight UR3, UR5 and UR10 cobots are easily programmed and operate using intuitive 3D visualization, which allows them to be redeployed to multiple applications without changing the production layout. The cobots are monitored via a safety system that prevents them from exceeding safe operating parameters and stops their operation if they unexpectedly hit a person or object. Universal Robots says the cobots are being used by customers such as NASA, Tool Gauge and Aircraft Tooling for a wide variety of applications within the aerospace industry, including repair and inspection tasks, painting, upholstery and manufacturing.
4. Enhancing Shop Operations
Company: Collins Aerospace
Specifications: Collins Aerospace has leveraged custom robotic technology at two of its MRO sites to enhance shop operations. The company’s Automated Guide Vehicle (AGV)—which was built in-house and deployed in late 2018 at its Monroe, North Carolina, facility—is used to collect data and create operational efficiency between the facility’s departments. The company plans to eventually integrate artificial intelligence to make the AGV “a living bot that will understand facility demand and act accordingly.” At its Singapore facility, Collins has built an Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle to move products to different areas of the building, which it says has reduced operator walking distance by more than 90% and reduced total lead time of all products by 3.5 hr.
5. Diverse Robotics Range
Company: Lufthansa Technik
Specifications: Lufthansa Technik (LHT) has developed a wide variety of robots in-house, including the AutoInspekt robot for performing digital crack inspections on engine components using high-end sensors and the RoCCET (Robot Controlled Cockpit Electronics Testing) robot, which provides faster, more consistent and reliable testing of cockpit controls. LHT says RoCCET can detect factors such as worn-out instrument switches or LED lights that are too dark for flight operations much more reliably than the human eye, using several industrial cameras to measure damage and brightness. LHT is now developing a cobot to independently check the fill level of large batteries and refill distilled water to the battery cells if necessary.
6. Automated Aircraft Washing
Specifications: Swedish company Aerowash specializes in automated aircraft-washing robots that it says can shorten the wash process by up to 60% compared to manual washing methods. The robots are operated via wireless remote control and feature a gentle rotating brush on a mechanical arm that can be adjusted to different angles, which allows it to wash aircraft of any size and shape. The robots feature four-wheel drive to move easily around the aircraft and include alarm indicators and safety sensors to protect the aircraft and worker operating the robot. Aerowash’s newest model, the AW12, was recently approved by Airbus for all of its aircraft models and will now be included in Airbus’ aircraft maintenance manual and tool equipment manual. Aerowash is delivering its first demo system to the U.S. in spring 2019.
7. Engine-Repairing “Snake” Robots
Specifications: Rolls-Royce debuted a number of robotics initiatives at the Farnborough International Airshow last summer, including Project FLARE, which uses two “snake” robots to travel through an engine to perform patch repairs to damaged thermal barrier coatings. The company is working with project partners from industry and academia to develop functionality for the robots to carry out thermal spraying on damaged components, which will allow repairs while the engines are still in service. Rolls-Royce says demonstrations so far have been positive, but that the robots need to go through a range of validation and verification trials before the company can use the technology for engine repairs.
8. Robotic Blade Polishing
Specifications: Since its commercial release in early 2018, AV&R’s robotic system for polishing gas turbine blades has seen increased demand for CFM56 and V2500 engines. Now the company is looking to equip itself for the expected demand for Leap and geared turbofan engines, which have more tightly shaped blade tolerances. According to AV&R, the robotic polishing system offers higher levels of consistency, repeatability, time savings and quality assurance compared to manual polishing. The company is currently six months into developing a similar device to automate deburring on jet engine blades, which it expects to finish and bring to market sometime between late 2019 and early 2020.