Rolls Royce To Revolutionise Engine Maintenance With “Snakes And Beetles”

Rolls Royce is set to revolutionise the way they maintain engines with a number of interesting innovations. The engine manufacturing giant is trying to reduce the need to rip engines apart. This is in addition to a blisk repair initiative reducing cost and waste.

Rolls Royce Swarm blisk repair
Rolls Royce is currently developing a number of technologies to revolutionise engine maintenance. Pictured is a prototype “swarm” device. Photo: Rolls Royce

At a recent Rolls Royce briefing attended by Simple Flying, the manufacturer was keen to show off a number of concepts which are in the works. While one is already being tested in use, the other three are still being designed. In fact, the manufacturer is leaning heavily on nature, by designing technologies inspired by animals.

Dr Chris Heason, a joining and addition specialist at Rolls Royce told how, while an engine is only built once, it is overhauled about five times. As such, Rolls Royce is investing in technology that could significantly improve the process.

FLARE

The first technology delivered by Rolls Royce to the press is named FLARE. It essentially sees a snake-like robot which enters the engine through a port on the side. The snake-like devices are actually two robots. One enters from either side and they meet in the middle.

Rolls Royce Cobra
Cobra sees two snakes like robots work together to repair ceramic coatings. Photo: Rolls Royce

The purpose of this robot is to repair damaged interior parts of the engine. Currently, if the ceramic coating of the engine’s interior is damaged, a lot of work is required to fix the issue. However, with the new robots, it will be as simple as plugging it in, as the robots can enter the engine, and conduct an interior patch repair.

Swarm

Swarm was, in my opinion, the coolest technology displayed by Rolls Royce. Through swarm, Rolls Royce is attempting to automate scanning the interior of engines. The swarm device looks like a small beetle with four legs. These robots are intended to be injected into the engine as a swarm.

Rolls Royce Swarm innovation
The swarm robots crawl around the inside of the engine, scanning for damage. Photo: Rolls Royce

They then plod around the engine, scanning the interior. They’re looking for any damage inside and report back. As they all talk to each other, they don’t waste time all scanning the same part. This will save considerable time as many robots can do the work of one human much more quickly and in a less invasive manner.

Cobra

Next, building on the snake-like idea of FLARE, Dr Heason introduced the Cobra robot. Cobra is another snakelike robot, however, it only has one component as opposed to two. The Cobra robot is more advanced than the FLARE, as it is possible to remotely control it.

Cobra Laser Innovation
The Cobra can be remotely controlled from anywhere in the world. Photo: Rolls Royce

Using VR, Rolls Royce engineers will be able to diagnose potential problems from their base in Derby, even if the aircraft is stranded on the other side of the globe. The snake includes a laser which can carry out minor repairs and was likened to keyhole surgery for engines.

Blisk Repair

Finally, Dr Heason was able to show us an idea, which has now made it to testing. Rolls Royce is moving to make blisks (bladed disks) of a single solid piece of metal. This, however, makes them much more expensive. Additionally, when one blade is damaged, the whole part requires replacement as opposed to a single blade.

Blisk Repair innovation
The company starts by creating a 3D model of the damaged part. Photo: Rolls Royce

Their new blisk repair innovation uses high strength lasers to solve the problem. First, the company makes a 3D model of the damaged part to determine the repair needed. They then removed the damaged piece of metal, before building it back up with a laser.

Excess material is used, which is then smoothed away. In fact, by the time the repair process is complete, you shouldn’t be able to tell the part was repaired. This helps engine owners keep costs down, and stop wasting valuable materials.

Blisk Repair
They then use a laser to rebuild the damaged blades. Photo: Rolls Royce

It could be a while before these innovations are implemented, as some are still in the design phase. However, by showcasing them, Rolls Royce clearly has faith in the ideas.

Which innovation is your favourite? Let us know in the comments!

1 comment
  1. Very interesting. Given their quality issues with the Trent 1000 engines over the last few years they probably need all the help they can get! Seeing engineless Boeing 787’s sitting at Auckland International Airport for months on end surely the question is, why not make the engines correctly in the first place?

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