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‘AROSATEC’ improving turbine engine maintenance

The final meeting of the EU-funded AROSATEC project took place at the Metris headquarters in Leuven, Belgium on 4 July 2006. The partnership, composed largely of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has developed new processes for the automated repair and overhaul of turbine engine components.

Aero engine turbine © BCT GmbH
© BCT GmbH

Today, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of aero engine components involves a chain of processes, including inspection, de-coating/coating, welding, milling and polishing. Most of these processes are still carried out manually, and while the supply industry is developing improved and automated machining equipment, the individual steps remain separate and unconnected.

Improving and integrating

“Our first objective was to improve existing repair methods for aero-engine components,” explains Thomas Kosche of BCT GmbH. 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.”

To achieve their objectives, AROSATEC coordinator BCT GmbH enlisted several international partners, bringing different skills and knowledge to the project. Participants included software specialists and experts in scanning, milling and welding technologies. Importantly, the project involved several SME partners, including BCT GmbH itself. SMEs are widely considered to be drivers of innovation in an industry dominated by giant corporations.

Targeting key technologies

Research on scanning technologies, undertaken by Metris, was one of the main focuses of the project. Reliable scanning results for engine components serve as the basis for inspection and for subsequent adaptive laser welding and milling processes. Kosche says the AROSATEC project improved optical scanning methods so that even shiny materials can now be assessed easily and automatically.

The integration or coupling of scanning technology with the laser welding and milling systems was another important issue addressed by the project. Last but not least, the development of a communication solution for the exchange of information between the scanning systems and the data management system was crucial to the project.

“All of the new processes are equipped with interfaces for communicating with the database”, explains Kosche. “Web-based technologies are used for transferring 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. Different industrial partners can also access the data management and handling systems.”

Demonstrated success

The final AROSATEC meeting, which took place at Metris’ facilities in Leuven, featured a full-scale blade scanning demonstration. “This is a good example of successful research co-operation at EU level,” says Daniel Chiron of the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General. “These results are very important to improving competitiveness in our aeronautics industry, increasing turnover potential, in particular in view of the predicted tripling of air traffic in the next 20 years.”

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