AutoInspect in use

Fully automatic inspection procedure now industrialized for engine parts

Automation and the use of robots play an increasingly significant role in maintenance processes at Lufthansa Technik, especially when it comes to aircraft engines. This applies to the entire process chain, from automated inspection to component measurement to repairs. As early as 2015, Lufthansa Technik developed an automated inspection procedure for engine components (AutoInspect), and in 2016 the company added an automated process chain for the repair of engine components (AutoRep). The results of these two successful research and development projects were subsequently linked and the transfer to operative use began in mid-2016. 

During phase one of industrialization in early 2017, the automated inspection procedure received regulatory approval by the aviation authorities. Since then, the concept system developed as part of the R&D AutoInspect project has been in productive use, resulting in improvements to both ergonomics and inspection productivity. Moreover, users have been able to identify further potential and contribute to the system's ongoing development through suggestions for improving it. To ensure that production processes aren't constantly interrupted during further development, the existing system was mirrored at the start of industrialization and a "twin" was produced at the Institute for Aircraft Production Technology at Hamburg University of Technology that is identical except for just a few components.

For instance, the original control system, which consisted of several software components, was replaced with a professional, industrially mature control system. Furthermore, a new tool changer and a second robot for non-contact optical measurement (white light interferometry) were developed, tested and prepared for transfer to Lufthansa Technik. The use of the second measuring robot will reduce process time from previously nearly seven hours to about four hours per component inspection.

Now the newly developed inspection procedure is being made as robust as required for industrial use. In addition, the procedure is being rolled out for other combustor parts from engines of the CFM56 and CF34 families. Once this task is complete, the second phase of industrialization will be concluded. In phase three, the algorithms used to evaluate the scan data will be improved to simplify transfer to the automated repair. Beyond that, overall inspection performance is being improved further with the plan of obtaining approval as an alternative procedure for fluorescent penetrant inspection (FPI). In mid-2018, the automated inspection and repair procedures are scheduled to be brought together in a single process chain.

The project partners Lufthansa Technik and Pepperl+Fuchs took advantage of their successful partnership during the R&D projects AutoInspect and AutoRep to bundle their expertise. In December 2017, they founded an equal-stakes joint venture – 3D.aero – for the future development of innovative automation solutions. The new company will operate from the ZAL TechCenter in Hamburg-Finkenwerder. With Pepperl+Fuchs, Lufthansa Technik has a highly specialized partner at its side, so that the company is optimally equipped to meet the demands of increasing automation in every part of the aviation industry.