GE has a habit of developing or acquiring advanced technology for one purpose, then extending it to other purposes and lines of business. This may be the case with the OEM’s recent acquisition of U.K.-based OC Robotics, which makes snake-arm robots. With a reach of more than three meters and a cumulative bend of up to 225 degrees, snake-arm robots are ideal for working in tight spots. They can inspect, fasten, clean and perform other tasks when equipped with the right tooling.
Designed with two degrees of freedom at each joint, the robots snake through tough physical environments. They are ideal for confined and hazardous applications, as their motors, electronics and controls are kept outside of the environment, with only the arm deployed into the work space. Hollow cores allow cabling, hoses and other equipment to be routed through the center of the arm.
How will GE use these twisty devices? Lance Herrington, time on wing leader for GE Aviation, says, “we are working on some different projects that could be available later this year.” He notes that the snake-arm robot will be customized for each task, depending on the engine type and the specific task to be performed. OC has customized its robots for a wide range of applications, including inspection, remote handling, forging with special dies and water-jet cleaning.
The first uses will be in engine inspections and other work. Herrington says the aim will be increasing time on wing and reducing maintenance burdens for the airlines. However, “aviation applications will just be the starting point for this incredible technology. Our plan is to utilize this technology at other GE businesses.”
There may also be plenty of aviation applications outside engines. OC has been working with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory on a non-destructive inspection snake-arm robot system for confined and difficult-to-access areas. The aim is to improve availability of aircraft by enabling more inspections to be performed with minimal disassembly or disturbance of structures.