DVIDS – News – AFRL division wins award for cold spray robot

DVIDS – News – AFRL division wins award for cold spray robot

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, has teamed up with the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing, or ARM, Institute to win the Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award at the 2022 Defense Manufacturing Conference for the creation of a augmented reality-enabled cold spray robot, nicknamed “ARRI.”

The new system, which is used to apply thermal coatings to refurbish worn aerospace parts, requires a human user to look through an augmented reality-enabled Microsoft Hololens and use intuitive hand gestures to indicate where a coating is on a workpiece must be applied. The system will deliver significant cost savings to the Air Force, improve weapon system readiness, reduce maintenance time and improve material application accuracy.

“This was an all-star team. I am very proud of them,” said Harry Pierson, AFRL senior general engineer and senior technical advisor in the Digital Manufacturing and Supply Chain branch. “I am delighted that they have been recognized for their great work.”

The Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award is presented annually to teams that demonstrate significant achievements in world-class manufacturing technology capability. According to the ARM Institute, team awardees demonstrate both technical performance and an ability to “affordably meet the warfighter’s needs throughout the defense acquisition lifecycle.”

The augmented reality-enabled cold spray robot originated in AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate in the Manufacturing and Industrial Technology Division. AFRL provided project guidance and partial funding while ARM Institute members and project integrators at the University of Connecticut and Titan Robotics, Inc. provided the additional cost share.

“It was clear to us [when we began the project] that the technology we create will have far-reaching impact in enabling the spread of flexible robotics,” said Stuart Lawrence, president and CEO of Titan Robotics, Inc., a privately held company based in Pennsylvania. “Our mission and goals as a company have always been highly aligned with AFRL, the USAF and now the ARM Institute as we continue to mature the technology and transition to new applications such as cold spraying while developing new capabilities such as ARRI builds.”

The ARRI robot was installed at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, or WR-ALC, at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia in late July 2022. WR-ALC has since ordered two additional systems that Titan Robotics, Inc. ARRI-enabled controllers used for a total customer investment of $1.6 million.

“We have developed a technology that helps robots function in highly variable environments,” Pierson said. “We thought, let’s develop an interface that lets the operator step away and let the robot do the work.”

Historically, cold injection robot users were required to create a specific computer-coded program for each individual part slated for overhaul, a process that could take weeks. Now, Pierson said, ARRI can complete the cold spray process in minutes. Adding augmented reality to the machine eliminates the need for custom robotic coding driven by each individual component and its wear condition, resulting in significant time and cost savings.

“More applicants will be able to use this advanced technology without having years of training in specialized skills, [which lowers] the barriers to robotic automation,” Lawrence said. “[ARRI provides] a safer and more attractive work environment that increases productivity and does not displace jobs.”

While the robot still requires a human operator, user training time has been reduced by 90%, from about two weeks to less than one day, saving $600,000 a year in depot operating costs, according to Shane Groves, robotics and automation expert at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.

“We initially performed cold spraying by hand, then progressed to applying it with a robot that had to be programmed for specific parts,” Groves said. “Both of these methods required significant operator development and expertise. The ARRI robot allows someone with no cold spraying experience to be trained in about a day. The system also speeds up the time it takes to spray, reduces equipment costs and improves capacity.”

The process of applying thermal coatings to parts first requires the operator to use a commercially available Microsoft HoloLens to project a virtual model of the workpiece. Then the operator drags the model to the physical part and marks on the workpiece indicating the worn areas where ARRI should apply the cold spray, according to the award nomination.

“The robot needs to know two things,” Pierson said. “One: Where is the part? And second: where should it apply the cold spray? ARRI allows the user to show both of these things incredibly quickly and efficiently.”

According to the 2022 Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award nomination package, “Cold spraying is an essential manufacturing process for refurbishing worn aircraft components that are no longer commercially available… While cold spraying is the first application, ARRI is a common solution that can be applied to any robotic surface processing application, such as coating, de-painting, media blasting and sanding.”

Cold spray is an additive technology that involves firing hot metal particles at high pressure to bond them to the target, Pierson said. While the temperature of cold spraying can reach up to 800 degrees Celsius, it is cold compared to other thermal spraying applications which can be between 1600 and 5500 degrees Celsius.

FANUC Robotics provided the industrial robotic arm for the ARRI project in partnership with the ARM Institute and Titan Robotics, Inc., Lawrence said. FANUC Robotics continues to support AFRL in other similar projects.

Pierson noted that the cold spray robot’s new augmented reality capability is another tool that will allow the Air Force to continue its mission uninterrupted.

“No one makes these parts anymore,” Pierson said. “This is going to mean huge cost savings for the Air Force.”

Date taken:21/12/2022
Date posted:21/12/2022 10:11
Story ID:435610

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