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Air Force, ARM Institute Awards $2.3M for New Automation Projects

Aerobotix ARM 400x275

March 18, 2021

The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute has announced a collaboration with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) on four new technology projects, selected from the institute’s new Directed Project Call process. The AFRL will invest $2.3 million in these projects over the next 18 months.

The Directed Project Calls seek to quickly advance solutions for the Air Force. The first project call sought to identify and fund high-payoff manufacturing improvement programs that significantly impact cost, schedule, and availability for the production and sustainment of weapon systems. 

“The ARM Institute’s Directed Project Call process allows for greater collaboration between industry leaders and the Department of the Air Force,” said Nihad Alfaysale, the government chief technology advisor for ARM. “We plan to implement these technologies at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex where the solutions will make a tangible difference in our operations.”

The four projects awarded include:

Virtual Part Repair Programming for Robotic Thermal Spray Applications, University of Connecticut and Titan Robotics.

Description: This project is working to implement a virtual method for robotic thermal spray operators to automatically generate the robotic programming over a repair area on a physical part within a thermal spray booth using an immersive interface. The project team at UConn will design and develop a sensor system for measuring thickness buildup over a part during various thermal spray processes. The sensory measurement will be paired with a virtual repair programming interface from Titan Robotics where the operator will simply highlight (i.e. virtual mask) the repair in the graphical user interface (GUI) and build up the thermal spray coating to the desired thickness over the selected part area for repair.

This new system will limit the human operators’ exposure to the dangerous thermal spray operation, preventing the injuries and strain caused by repetitive operations during post-processing tasks. This project will substantially advance the capability of standard robotic systems by integrating advanced sensing and robot path planning capabilities.

Sustainment Autonomous Masking, University of Connecticut, Aerobotix

Description: This project will leverage key aerospace industry partners with more than 15 years of experience integrating robotic systems within a high-rate production environment to develop an Autonomous Masking Application solution. Masking, which is currently completed manually, is a necessary part of the spraying of the outer mold line fabrication process for aircraft parts. Precise placement of the tape is time-consuming and errors are costly. The culmination of this project will be demonstrated at Robins Air Force Base on a production robotic coating system. The final demonstration will show the overall technology readiness level and the ability to directly integrate to production robotic systems.

Flexible Drilling System, Boeing and ShapeFidelity

Description: This project centers on using collaborative robots for high force applications, including drilling and countersinking. Currently, collaborative robots cannot be used in these functions due to their force limitation. This project team will focus on the use of self-attaching (zero reaction tools) to enable these functions while ensuring the technician can work alongside the robot safely. The technician will remain key in the process; the technological advancements facilitated through this project will enable the operator to focus on quality inspection, rather than operating in ergonomically dangerous positions.

Automated Manufacturing Study of Flex Squared Solar Panels, Boeing Spectrolab

Description: A significant cost inhibitor of rapid satellite manufacturing is the current need of traditional wiring systems for photovoltaic power generation. Conventional solar wiring systems are heavy, difficult to install, and nonstandard because each is designed for a specific space vehicle with no modularity. This project will identify areas that are optimal opportunities to aid in the reduction of cost and increase in production to meet future market demands. The project team will identify readily available manufacturing equipment and create a plan to fully automate the Flex2 production line. This effort will deliver a significant impact to all space programs utilizing these components by allowing them to increase automation thus decreasing production costs.

“This new process allows us to quickly address urgent and specific areas of need from the U.S. Department of Defense by leveraging the strength of the ARM Member ecosystem,” said ARM Institute CTO Arnie Kravitz, “We are proud that the Department of the Air Force has entrusted us to execute these important projects and look forward to more opportunities to collaborate.”

For the latest project calls, visit the ARM website here.

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