Robotics for In-situ Repair
Robotic systems for in-situ repair is one of the research areas for UTC team. We focuses on developing fundamentally novel, miniaturised robotic systems, e.g. walking hexapod and continuum robot, for inspection, maintenance and repair operations in challenging environments (e.g. aero-engines, nuclear).
Different with the hyper-redundant cable driven robots, the continuum robots developed in UTC are constructed with multiple continuous sections capable of large bending angle (± 90° in arbitrary direction), enabling it access into extremely confined space, e.g. aero engine.
Based on the novel compliant-joint structure, the arm of the continuum robot have the state-of-the-art diameter/length ratio in the world (i.e. 0.023) and it can deliver various end effectors (e.g. camera and machining tools) for conducting the aforementioned operations, which enables to significantly reduce the down-time of the facilities.
Walking hexapod developed in UTC is derived from Stewart platform. Unlike the conventional Stewart platform, its feet can be controlled to anchor to/release from the ‘base’ and all the legs can be articulated for propelling itself to the remote area. Once the feet are anchored, the robot can perform 6-Degree-of-Freedom high precision machining operation (10 um). Hence, the hexapod can self-propel to deliver different end effectors for inspection and repair on the targets in extreme environments (e.g. nuclear), shortening the shut-down time of the facility and removing human from the hazards.
Research and Development List
Here you can find information about our projects.
MiRoR (Miniaturised Robotic systems for holistic in-situ Repair and maintenance works in restrained and hazardous environments)
Miniaturised Robotic systems for holistic in-situ Repair and maintenance works in restrained and hazardous environments (MiRoR) aims to develop a fundamentally novel concept of a Miniaturised Robotic Machine (Mini-RoboMach) system, that equipped with intelligence-driven and autonomous abilities, will be demonstrated for holistic in-situ repair and maintenance of large and/or intricate installations.
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FLARE (Flame Spray Adder for in-situ Patch Repair of Aero-Engine Combustors)
ATI-approved project Flame Spray Adder for in-situ Patch Repair of Aero-Engine Combustors (FLARE), led by Rolls-Royce is a collaborative R&D project utilising continuum robot capability developed by the University of Nottingham, incorporating miniaturised flame spray equipment from Metallisation. There is significant market desire to create a device that can perform in-situ / on-wing patch repair of thermal barrier coatings without dismantling high value infrastructure, such as aircraft jet engines.
It is costly and time consuming for maintenance and overhaul activities to be completed whilst the engine is removed, it is more attractive to Rolls-Royce, airline customers and the aerospace sector’s supply chain to be able to perform more services with the engine still intact and attached to the aircraft.
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FreeHex (Free-leg Hexapod)
Free-leg Hexapod (FreeHex) aims to develop a miniature low force machining system, that offers features of light, compact, versatile and easily portable and can be temporarily attached to its workpiece for in-situ maintenance of large components and mechanical systems in restricted and hard to access environments.
Aeroengine compressor blades are sometimes damaged by ingested debris. Damaged blades can currently be repaired by highly-skilled Rolls-Royce engineers that travel to the location of the engine to remove the defect using slender grinding tools, an operation known as boreblending. Remote Inspection and Engine Repair is a project that aims to develop a portable, remotely controllable boreblending robot. Led by Rolls-Royce and funded by the ATI, the project aims to reduce the downtime associated with boreblending by allowing engineers to perform the task remotely over the internet.
The remote boreblending robot was demonstrated on a Trent XWB engine in Rolls-Royce, Derby, in January 2018.
RAIN (Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear)
The nuclear industry has some of the most extreme environments in the world, with radiation levels and extremely harsh conditions restraining human access to many facilities.
Yet to date, robotic systems have had very little impact on the industry, even though it is clear that they offer major opportunities for improving productivity and significantly reducing risks to human health.
The RAIN initiative has been created to address these issues by developing the advanced robotics and artificial intelligence that will be essential for future nuclear operations. Their adoption will have the potential to completely transform the nuclear industry globally.
At the same time it is envisaged that the reliable, functional robotic systems that are the programme’s goal will also have important applications in other sectors. These will extend beyond extreme environments such as space exploration, in-orbit satellite design, offshore operations and mining to include less challenging areas where RAIN research will be highly relevant, such as healthcare and autonomous vehicles.
The programme’s overall objectives are to lower costs within the nuclear industry, reduce timescales, reduce risk, improve safety, promote remote inspection and reduce the chances of human exposure to radiation and other hazards. Once developed, the technologies that will help to realise these objectives are to form the foundation of a world-leading robotic and AI research and innovation ecosystem.
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RAIN Plus (Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear)
The nuclear industry has a vast array of highly complex and diverse challenges that span decommissioning, waste management, fission power plants, advanced modular reactors and fusion reactors. In the UK, one of the most significant challenges is to decommission legacy storage facilities. There is estimated to be approximately 3,000 tonnes of high-level waste (HLW), 310,000 tonnes of intermediate level waste (ILW) and hundreds of radioactive facilities that need to be decommissioned in the UK alone. Despite significant progress during the first phase of RAIN, decommissioning continues to rely almost exclusively on manual operations, requiring people to enter extremely hazardous environments placing themselves at risk. Significant amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) is required, which reduces dexterity and lowers productivity to levels significantly below that of other industries. PPE also adds significantly to the waste materials that must be disposed of and as a consequence, makes some future operations infeasible. For example, it has been estimated that more than 1 million suited entries will be required to decommission the THORP plant alone on the Sellafield site. RAI technologies are therefore considered essential if the UK is to address its decommissioning challenges. In the future generation of nuclear power, fusion reactors will not be able to operate without advances being made to remote handling equipment. In addition, remote inspection and maintenance of new fission reactors is essential if they are to be commercially viable.
RAIN+ will continue to push the boundaries of Robotics and AI (RAI) science, developing robotic solutions that solve major challenges facing the nuclear sector. To ensure that the work is relevant, has a long-term impact on industry, and leads to deployments of RAI technology into active facilities, RAIN will continue to work in close partnership with nuclear end-users, the supply chain and regulators. Furthermore, recognising that many of the hazards encountered in the nuclear industry are prevalent in other industry sectors, such as agriculture, construction, offshore and healthcare, RAIN will work to expand its user and application base such that RAI solutions can be developed that have cross-sector relevance and a single hub for all challenging environments, not just nuclear, can be established towards the end of this second phase.
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INSPECT (In-situ optical inspection of engine components)
With the civil aviation sector continuing to grow year-on-year, an ever increasing number of routine in-situ gas turbine inspections are undertaken by both gas turbine providers and their customers. Whilst these are critical for ensuring a high-level of aeroengine safety, they are time intensive, vary between inspectors, and offer limited data capture and assessment possibilities. Through the INSPECT consortium, an optical inspection system will be developed that can be permanently and retrofittably embedded into the gas turbine borescope ports. Upon engine shutdown, probes are automatically inserted into the engine gas path, providing an fast, frequent, and standardised compressor inspection after every operation.
INSPECT is a state-of-the-art inspection technology, enabling future Big Data Analytics, data mining, and trending. This will ultimately make RollsRoyce and its customers data rich and able to optimise flight paths, maintenance schedules, and possibly even OEM design.
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CHIMERA (Robotic Inspection of Pressure Vessels)
CHIMERA is a semi-autonomous robotic platform for internal pressure vessel inspection, repair and maintenance. It will be deployed into the pressure vessel without breaking containment via an innovative bolt on headworks. It will be equipped with a sludge/sediment vacuum to clean the pressure vessel, an ultrasonic phased array inspection system and a slender arm for inspection and repair in confined spaces.
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Through-life performance: From science to instrumentation
The aim of the platform grant is to sustain a world leading team with strategic research capability on through-life performance improvement, including complex in-situ degradation assessment technologies. The team between Cranfield and Nottingham Universities have worked together over the last ten years.
The research will take on a challenge to study and model compound degradations for mechanical components, give feedback on the degradation to design and manufacturing and develop instrumentation to assess (i.e. measure size and depth) the degradations in-situ, including in in-accessible areas. Understanding degradation science better (both single and then compound) is essential to extend the life of mechanical components and therefore availability of the HVM products. In-situ assessment of the compound degradation through very small service access holes will reduce the maintenance cost significantly.
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The application of soft crawling robots (SCR) to real-world scenarios remains a grand challenge due to their limited deployment time to reach the target and accessibility to difficult-to-reach environments by any obstacles. To overcome these limitations, we propose a novel multimodal Tasering Twin Soft Robot (TTSR), carrying two SCRs, capable of i) passive flight and ii) wall climbing by deploying SCRs to target area. Each SCR is driven by two dielectric elastomer actuators and three electroadhesive feet. In the demonstration, the robot was launched by pneumatic pressure and flew over an obstacle. While flying, the SCRs were folded compactly to reduce the air drag and perched on a vertical wall 3 m away. Once perched, the SCRs reconfigured themselves by bistable mechanism and separated from each other. After that, the SCRs performed planar motion, and reached predefined locations on the wall. Moreover, the SCR can move across 15o-slope dihedral surface and inverted surface.
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EyeGlove for Inspection and Measurement in Confined Environments
Industrial assets containing safety-critical assemblies (e.g. gas turbine engines, petrochemical apparatus) need to be periodically inspected. However, due to the restricted spaces, and sometimes unsighted areas in confined environments, inspection and measurement tasks can hardly be achieved using conventional rigid measurement tools. Human hands, as highly flexible and dexterous manipulators, can perform a variety of tasks in various environments, from daily life to challenging industry scenarios. Therefore, it is beneficial to design a vision-based wearable glove system that allows operators to utilize their dexterous hands as manipulator to achieve inspection and measurement tasks in confined environments. EyeGlove is a project that aims to develop a hand wearable device which gives user’s hands the ability to ‘see’ inside cramped environments when conducting inspection and measurement tasks by manipulating plurality of tiny finger-cameras. Developed by the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre (UTC) in Manufacturing and On-Wing Technology at the University of Nottingham and funded by the REINSTATE project, EyeGlove play an important role in developing a portfolio of sensing, inspection and repair techniques for use within on-wing installed engines in the aerospace industry, as well as a variety of neighbouring sectors.