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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!