Battelle's New Robot Fixes Airplane Windows, Could Save Millions

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Oct. 21, 2013) - Battelle has developed a robotic system to repair the windows of the world's airplanes. This system is a marriage of existing Battelle technology called the Automated Maintenance Robot (AMR) and a proven manual method of transparency restoration. But this isn't just removing bugs and chips - it's refurbishing expensive aircraft parts that can be reused, saving time and money while improving precision and consistency. And when it's proven that the system is successful, it will be available for military and civilian use.

To see a video of the technology in action, paste this link into your address bar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGJjl6NJNZo&list=PLkCbEOIHKg3fXaTrZX0ZJvcwxhagiPOqm.

Many airplane windows and other lenses aren't made from glass because it isn't strong or resilient enough for aviation uses. Instead, acrylic is used for windows, fixtures and cockpit canopies and is manufactured to exacting specific sizes and contours. However, within three to seven years, a phenomenon known as "crazing" begins to happen-weathering and microfracturing that dulls the clear surfaces into a milky, opaque mess.

Years ago, Ray Fontana, founder of RCF Inc., figured out a way to fix these parts, polishing them back to their original clarity. But the process requires technicians to buff out the scratches and crazing by hand, which takes a great deal of skill and education. Now, with Battelle software and specialized parts integrated with a Fanuc robotic arm, the process will be automated.

"This achievement can save the aviation industry millions and millions of dollars," said Steve Kelly, President of Battelle's National Security Division. "Integrating two existing technologies into a novel approach is a hallmark of Battelle's strategy for solving really difficult problems."

Battelle worked with Fontana to prove the robot can refurbish the cockpit canopy of the T-45A Goshawk, a tandem-seat jet trainer for Navy and Marine Corps pilots. When pilots are learning to fly at 600 miles an hour at 40,000 feet, they must have clear vision-but replacing the canopy would cost about half a million dollars. And canopies must be replaced or refurbished before returning to Ready for Tasking status-training, carrier detachment or combat maneuvering.

With deliveries underway, Battelle's system replaces two trained, skillful technicians who require up to 10 days to polish the canopy by hand, allowing them to work on other projects and relieving them of a tedious, repetitive task. The robotic system works much faster, with consistent sanding pressure that ensures proper thickness of the material, thus making approval for flight usage easier to obtain.

Development of the system, with proprietary software at its heart, started years ago at Battelle and was known as the Multi-Use Robot System. It inspected B-52 wing fuel tanks, which had corrosion that caused paint to peel from their interior surfaces. The system now is showing that industrial robots can perform a variety of maintenance operations.

About Battelle

Every day, the people of Battelle apply science and technology to solving what matters most. At major technology centers and national laboratories around the world, Battelle conducts research and development, designs and manufactures products, and delivers critical services for government and commercial customers. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio since its founding in 1929, Battelle serves the national security, health and life sciences, and energy and environmental industries. For more information, visit www.battelle.org.  

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