A UK-based builder of flexible snake-arm robots was recently acquired by GE Aviation, which envisions use of these machines for jet engine maintenance.
This type of robot, developed by OC Robotics, is ideal for working in confined and hazardous spaces. The 6-ft long snake-arm was recently deployed to replace human inspectors during road tunnel construction in Hong Kong. The robot helps to clean the cutters in a massive boring shield with a high-pressure water jet, and measures the sharpness of the cutting surface with a laser. Eliminating the need for workers to squeeze between the 17-m wide shield and the rock improves work site safety.
In another application, the LaserSnake -- an integrated snake-arm robot and 5ckw laser cutter —successfully disassembled parts of a nuclear fuel processing facility in the UK. The robot cut a 5-ton, 1.5-inch-thick stainless steel tank into 40-pound pieces. It took only four weeks to do what would have taken human workers, each wearing single-use $2,500 protective suits, years to complete.
Snake-arm use for GE jet engine maintenance will allow workers to do as much work as possible with the engine still on the wing. Removing an engine is a time-intensive process that could take a plane out of service for weeks, impacting an airline’s bottom line.
The company suggests that inspection of power plants and trains or service in healthcare could be additional snake-arm duties.
OC Robotics’ snake-arm robots are housed in a cigar-tube-shaped garage and use a 10-pound motor to move interchangeable arms that can be as long as 14 ft.