State-of-the-art robotic sensing hub to launch this autumn

A lab with robotic equipment

Work is set to begin on a new £2.5 million cutting edge Robotically-Enabled Sensing (RES) hub at the University of Strathclyde.

The Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering (CUE), which is one of the largest research groups of its kind world-wide, will run the innovative purpose built facility in the historic Royal College

Next generation

The hub brings together next generation robotics with sensing technology to inspect high value components like aeroplane wings at the point of manufacture and throughout their life to make them quicker, easier and cheaper to build.

CUE boasts one of the world’s biggest automated inspection teams. The group carries out non-destructive testing using ultrasound and other sensors to assess components for structural faults or damage and to ensure they are built correctly.

The new cutting edge facility will house 11 robots capable of handling components up to six metres long. The ‘heart of the campus’ laboratory will also allow collaborative working on applied robotics to drive research, innovation and training and will support research for nine of the University’s Chancellor’s Fellows.

It will build on established industrial partnerships, including with Prestwick-based global manufacturer of aerostructures Spirit AeroSystems and collaborations with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and KUKA Robotics, one of the world’s leading industrial robotics innovators.

Professor Gareth Pierce, from Electronic and Electrical Engineering, said:

We are creating a go-to facility for automation and sensor integration. The work will ensure that components are built and maintained safely and more quickly, as well as more cheaply and of higher quality.”

“The hub will enable us to expand our customer base into new sectors and also help build Strathclyde’s international reputation in robotics research capability, bringing advanced robotics and sensing technology to the largest possible audience.”

 “It will also ensure that our graduates will be the next generation of advanced robotic engineers, providing novel solutions to challenges across sectors from manufacturing and healthcare to civil construction and nuclear decommissioning.”

artists impression of RES lab

Geoff Pinner, Head of Wing Engineering and the Aerospace Innovation Centre at Spirit AeroSystems, said: “Partnerships between industry and academia, such as the relationship with Strathclyde, are essential for Spirit. The RES lab will play a key part in the development and integration of new industry leading technologies, enabling us to remain at the forefront of the ever evolving aerospace market.”

CUE also carries out work at Strathclyde’s high-tech manufacturing centre the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) and the Technology and Innovation Centre, the research and innovation hub of the Glasgow City Innovation District.

The new facility will also help combat a ‘bottleneck’ in manufacturing inspections due to a lack of specialists.

Inspection process

Dr Charles MacLeod from Strathclyde, said: “Components are being built quicker because of new machines, but the inspection process itself hasn’t got any faster.

“One of the components we habitually scan at the AFRC in our Combined Inspection Cell, developed in Partnership with Spirit AeroSystems, takes the robot just 18 minutes, with 20 minutes to process the data.

 “We took in the world’s top inspector, whose livelihood is scanning racing yachts, and it took him a week to scan it, with another week to process the data - so you’re going from two weeks to 40 minutes.

“People often assume robots are going to be taking over jobs but companies we have worked with have actually been able to win back high value overseas contracts because they are able to hit the necessary inspection targets.

 “You also still need people to sign off the inspection, the robot or the system doesn’t make the final decision. Companies are winning back work and the operator is also becoming more skilled.

 “So we’re translating robotics and sensing research into high impact activities.”