His Royal Highness The Duke of York visited OC Robotics on 10th September 2007 in his capacity as UK's Special Representative for International Trade and Investment. His visit to OC Robotics, manufacturer of snake-arm robots for aerospace, nuclear and security applications, formed part of a tour of several aerospace companies in the South West of England.
Industrial robots have been under development for external assembly tasks for many years. However, using an industrial robot to perform tasks inside a wingbox becomes a real "eye of the needle" problem. It is physically impossible to manoeuvre an industrial robot arm through the small man-access holes in a wing to conduct tasks inside the wingbox - put simply, the elbows get in the way.
Snake-arm robots are flexible robotic arms that don't have elbows, so they can follow their nose into confined spaces.
OC Robotics has developed a snake-arm robot demonstrator for Airbus, capable of reaching into a mock-up of a rib bay in a wing and conducting swaging tasks. Airbus has been working with OC Robotics for over 3 years and in 2006 co-funded the development of the first aerospace snake-arm robot.
Traditionally, aerospace assembly has always been a craft industry, and with good reason. The highly skilled processes and large-scale structures mean that the application of existing "car industry" automation is not straightforward. But with the pressure of high production rates, increasing Health and Safety legislation, and globalisation, automation has been seen as the only way to keep up with these demands.
Snake-arm robots enable the aerospace industry to reduce Health and Safety costs by allowing operators to conduct work from outside the confined spaces. Not only that, but they also offer the potential to increase production rates by speeding up processes.
Ultimately, automation cannot replace personnel, but it can augment their skills and expertise to improve quality and production rates. The inevitable changes to the current processes and procedures will result in a more repeatable, more reliable and more streamlined production system.
HRH The Duke of York watching a snake-arm robot demo The Duke of York was welcomed by Dr Rob Buckingham, Managing Director, and Andrew Graham, Technical Director. He was shown a presentation about the company and watched a demonstration of the Airbus snake-arm robot conducting an inspection sequence in a mock-up of a wingbox. His Royal Highness was impressed by the advanced technology in the snake-arm and mentioned the wide potential of applications for snake-arm robots in industry. He commented on the challenges facing small businesses today but recognised the importance of these organisations within the UK economy. His Royal Highness noticed how OC Robotics strives to employ the best people from all over the world. OC Robotics' 11 employees include engineers from the UK, Poland, India, Belgium, Latvia and Slovenia.
Later in the day Dr Rob Buckingham attended a UKTI-hosted lunch, held at Airbus, where His Royal Highness met representatives from many regional aerospace companies and regional bodies including SWRDA and WEAF.
Friday, September 14, 2007