The EU-funded AROSATEC project held its final meeting in Leuven, Belgium, last month. The partnership, composed largely of small and medium-sized enterprises, has developed new automated processes for repairing and overhauling turbine engine components.
Today, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of aero-engine components involves a chain of processes, including inspection, de-coating and coating, welding, milling and polishing. Most of these processes are still carried out manually, and while improved and automated machining equipment is being introduced, the individual steps remain separate and unconnected.
|AROSATEC keeping turbine engines running smoothly.|
© Peter Gutierrez
“Our first objective was to improve existing repair methods for aero-engine components," explains Thomas Kosche of BCT GmbH in an article on the EU's 'Aeronautics research' website. This was to be achieved through adaptive machining technologies to compensate for part-to-part variation in complex turbine components. “The second goal,” he says, “was to develop a new data management system which would constitute the core of a fully automated overhaul process, integrating individual steps into a comprehensive automated repair chain.”
AROSATEC coordinator BCT GmbH enlisted several international partners, bringing a range of skills and knowledge to the project. Importantly, this involved several SMEs, including BCT GmbH itself. SMEs are widely considered to be drivers of innovation in an industry dominated by giant corporations.
Improving key technologies
Optical scanning of engine components is the first step in most MRO processes. Thus, research on scanning technologies, undertaken by Metris, was one of the main focuses of the project. The integration or coupling of scanning technologies with laser welding and milling systems was another important activity. Finally, the development of a communication link between the scanning and data management systems was crucial to the success of the project.
“All of the new processes are equipped with interfaces for communicating with the database,” explains Kosche. Web-based technologies transfer the data from one process to another, and all information for defining the repair process is stored for future reference. “This means we can monitor and trace previous repair and maintenance processes,” he adds. Different industrial partners can also access the data management and handling systems.
The final AROSATEC meeting featured a full-scale blade scanning demonstration. “This is a good example of successful research co-operation at EU-level,” Daniel Chiron of the European Commission's Research Directorate-General is quoted as saying. “These results are very important to improving competitiveness in our aeronautics industry [and] increasing turnover potential, in particular in view of the predicted tripling of air traffic in the next 20 years.”
Thomas Kosche of BCT GmbH, AROSATEC