Rolls-Royce Developing Robot ‘Bugs’ That Crawl And Fix Engines

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Rolls-Royce has developed a robotic system capable of crawling into the engine itself for repairs and diagnostics. The company displayed a series of robots which includes Swarm robots, Inspect robots and Remote bore blending robots. These robots have the ability to diagnose hard-to-spot engine issues, without you having to tear the engine apart. They were developed in collaboration with the University of Nottingham and Harvard University engineers.

Dr. James Kell, wing technology specialist at Rolls-Royce said;
We are in the process of developing a number of miniature devices that enable us to get inside the jet engine to perform inspections or repairs, Repairs can be in the form of removing damaged material or putting material back on. To allow us to perform these repairs, we are working with an extensive network of partners to develop mechatronic probes — similar in nature to keyhole surgery techniques.

Swarm robots: consist of mini-bots roughly 10 mm in diameter that would be placed in the middle of an engine via a separate snake-like robot. These robots would carry small cameras that provide a live video feed back to the operator allowing them to complete a rapid visual inspection of the engine.

Inspect robots: are a series of periscopes permanently attached to the engine that consistently look for maintenance needs. These robots would be the size of a pencil and are crafted to withstand the consistent heat and exposure to the engine.

Flare: a pair of ‘snake’ robots which are flexible enough to travel through an engine, like an endoscope, before collaborating to carrying out patch repairs to damaged thermal barrier coatings. This project is a partnership between Rolls-Royce, University of Nottingham and Metallisation.

Remote bore blending robots: are remotely controlled with the capability of performing complicated maintenance tasks, such as repairing damaged compressor blades using lasers to grind parts.

Dr James explained forward saying;

All of these developments — and others that we have not presented yet — are exciting achievements in their own right.” “For example, imagine a damaged compressor blade in an engine in Dubai, a deployed remote boreblending robot would allow a person in Derby [in the U.K.] to repair it to get the engine back in service days quicker than the current approach.

The company says the technology is at ”varying levels of maturity” but says the robots could mean engine maintenance can be done more quickly and avoid the expensive process of removing them from wings and taking them apart for inspection.

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