It is rocket science: ABB robot helps test extreme high temperature systems

A cutting-edge testing system to help with the development of components for jet engines and other high-temperature systems is 30% faster thanks to a nimble ABB IRB 1200 robot.

Summary

The Challenge
SCS’s technology measures the maximum surface temperatures experienced by components in harsh high-temperature environments, such as aircraft engines, gas turbines or automotive engines after the part has cooled down again. To achieve reliable measurement, very accurate measuring processes are required, which are hard or impossible to do manually.

The Solution
Now the test subject remains stationery while a ABB robot rapidly moves the laser in a carefully calculated pattern to build up the map. This robot based approach is as almost one third faster than the previous test procedure.

The application
During the test process, SCS uses the ABB robot to guide the laser around the test subject and record the coating’s response with an optical probe. It systematically builds up a detailed map of the surface - complete with the historical temperature profile - from a series of points. SCS then feeds the data into a 3D CAD model of the component to generate a thermal map

London-based start-up Sensor Coating Systems (SCS) has created a novel technique to allow engineers to access temperature test data in a faster and more accurate way than previously possible. The Automated Robotic REadout SysTem (ARREST) project is an automated readout system for SCS’s thermal mapping technology, which could reduce SCS’s testing and development cycle from weeks to days.

SCS’s technology measures the maximum surface temperatures experienced by components in harsh high-temperature environments, such as aircraft engines, gas turbines or automotive engines. The unique SCS approach uses a coating that luminesces when excited by a laser, with the luminescent light emitted relating directly to the peak exposure temperature experienced by the coating. In effect, the coatings can ‘remember’ any temperature within the range of 150 and 1500oC. The digitised temperature data is plotted on a 3D CAD model of the analysed component generating a thermal map.

Understanding exactly how heat is distributed across components working under extreme conditions helps engineers to design more environmentally friendly engines with improved combustion efficiency and reduced emissions. It will also help spot potential problems, thus improving engine efficiency, safety and prolonging the life of critical systems.

Before adopting the robot, SCS used a gantry system to move the test subject around in the path of the laser. Now the test subject remains stationery while the robotic arm rapidly moves the laser in a carefully calculated pattern to build up the map. SCS typically primes the system by feeding in 3D CAD drawings of the test components, which the robot then uses to calculate the optimum pattern of measurement points across the surface.

This approach is almost one third faster than the previous, gantry-based test procedure. The increased agility of the robotic system makes it easier to access the complete surface of complex components, where the laser and optical probe might previously have struggled to reach.

During the test process, SCS uses the ABB robot to guide the laser around the test subject and record the coating’s response with an optical probe. It systematically builds up a detailed map of the surface - complete with the historical temperature profile - from a series of points. SCS then feeds the data into a 3D CAD model of the component to generate a thermal map. 

The project was co-funded by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, through the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). After 18 months of R&D, the complete system was successfully tested and demonstrated using real engine components with complex and irregular surfaces.  SCS offers this technology as a service, with manufacturers sending their components to SCS for testing.

According to Dr Jörg Feist, Managing Director at SCS, the key features that make the IRB 1200 ideal for this unusual application include its combination of compact size and good reach, as well as the relative ease with which it can be programmed to work through non-standard patterns of motion, rather than carrying out the kind of repetitive movements typically called for on a production line. ARREST required SCS to develop a sophisticated algorithm to compute the different moves that the robotic arm must make to reach all the measurement points efficiently, without any collisions or unnecessary moves.

Dr Feist says: “We are very pleased with the outcome of this project. The robotic system adds more cutting-edge technology to our sensing portfolio. Furthermore, it will enhance our capabilities in future projects to provide temperature data more efficiently on highly complex components.”

“We are excited that ABB Robotics has been chosen to be part of such a ground-breaking project and we hope to work again with SCS as their business continues to grow in future,”

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