Airplanes are still manually manufactured, despite improvement in technology. This is due mainly because of limitations in the space available, the complexity of the design and the limitations of modern robotics. But a new snake-like robot could change all of that and take airplane construction into the future.
Developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (IWU) in Chemnitz, Germany, the robot was created to meet the predicted rise in demand for airplanes. Modern airplane wings are made up of a complicated internal structure and hollow chambers, which makes assembly very challenging and requires skill and manual labor. Conventional robots are not able to slip into the narrow openings and work as needed.
The solution is a 60 kg robot with an arm that looks and functions like an automated snake. It consists of eight articulated sections with a total length of 2.5 m, weight of 15 kg, and ending in a hand or inspection camera (whichever is needed). What makes the snake-like robot truly unique is a patented gear system with motors generating 500 Nm of torque integrated into each of the arm’s sections. These, combined with a cord-and-spindle drive system, allow each section to turn independently up to 90 degrees, giving the arm the ability to tighten bolts even in the narrowest spaces.
The robot is going through the testing phase at the moment, and will be displayed to the public at the Automatica trade show in Munich from June 3 to 6. The project’s next stage involves installing the robot on a mobile platform or rails, so it can travel along the length of the wing while working. A full-scale version of the robot should be ready by the end of the year, according to Fraunhofer.