Snake-arm robots give assembly and inspection access to insides of aircraft wings

FILTON, England, 10 Nov. 2006. OC Robotics in Filton, England, has achieved a developmental milestone for a snake-arm robot designed for assembly and inspection tasks within aircraft wings -- an area previously inaccessible to automation.

FILTON, England, 10 Nov. 2006. OC Robotics in Filton, England, has achieved a developmental milestone for a snake-arm robot designed for assembly and inspection tasks within aircraft wings -- an area previously inaccessible to automation.

Working with Airbus in Toulouse, France, OC Robotics has built and tested a demonstration snake-arm robot capable of sealing, swaging, and inspection inside a mockup of an aircraft wing rib bay. The robot now is set to begin an intensive program of trials.

Compared to the automotive industry, the aerospace industry has been slow to introduce industrial robotics onto its assembly lines, OC Robotics officials say.

This is mainly due to the high accuracy needed over large structures. Recently there has been a general move towards automation to increase throughput and standardize processes, however tasks within rib bays and other confined spaces inside aircraft structures have remained practically impossible.

Unlike standard robots, snake-arm robots do not have prominent 'elbows,' but instead have a continuous curving shape like a snake for applications in confined spaces that must reach many awkward places.

Airbus UK in Filton, England, has been working with Kuka Robotics Corp. in Clinton Township, Mich., to develop aerospace robots to deliver end effector packages capable of inspection, swaging, and sealing.

When approached by Airbus to find a solution to low access automation, OC Robotics proposed using a snake-arm robot as an additional tool that the larger industrial robot would deliver. The snake-arm robot acts as a flexible extension to the industrial robot and feeds through the access hole by the Kuka robot. The snake-arm can follow a path into the wing box using the Kuka as a delivery tool.

The snake-arm robot is equipped with a wrist and tool interface to allow attachment of a variety of tools. Initial tests show the arm is flexible enough to deliver the required tools to areas of the wing box that were previously inaccessible to automation, to perform tasks such as final sealant application and swaging.

For more information contact OC Robotics online at www.ocrobotics.com.

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