Students: Camiel Storms, Robbert van der Heijden, Lars Hartman, Jehangir Khan (2023)
Automated refurbishment of engine parts | KLM
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, also known simply as KLM, is one of the oldest airlines in the world, having been founded in 1919. It is the flag carrier airline of the Netherlands and a member of the Air France-KLM group. KLM is constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate its operations, and one area in which it has been focusing its efforts is in the maintenance of aircraft engines.
The maintenance of aircraft engines is a vital part of ensuring the safety and reliability of flights, but it is also a process that can be costly and time-consuming. One of the main reasons for this is the high rate of personnel required to perform the tasks, as well as the repetitive nature of many of the tasks involved. This is why KLM has been looking for ways to automate some of these processes in order to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
However, the aviation industry is known for being a conservative industry where change comes slowly, due to the strict rules and regulations that govern the sector. This has made it difficult for KLM to implement new technologies and processes in its maintenance operations. However, the company has been working with the Hague University of Applied Sciences to develop a new automated maintenance process for aircraft engines that can help overcome these challenges.
The project focuses specifically on the maintenance of a platform on a CFM56-7 engine type, which is a common engine used in many commercial aircraft. A platform is a coated aluminium part with rubber on its two sides, which is used to seal the sides of the platform. The rubber is necessary because the tight fit of the platform would not be possible due to the materials changing size with the varying temperatures in the air.
The automated process is done with a UR-10 robot, which is controlled by Python. This robot is equipped with an end-of-arm tool that can grip and move the platform. The gripper is equipped with a vacuum generator and sensor to confirm a good grip of the platform. There is also a camera attached which is used to locate the weighing scale, tools and parts using ArUco markers to improve precision and modularity.
Furthermore, the HMI which operators can use to control the robot is also run on Python, making it easy to use and operate. The HMI allows the operator to monitor the weight of the platform and make adjustments as necessary, ensuring a stabilized rotation of the engine. This improves the efficiency and safety of the maintenance process.
Overall, the project demonstrates how automation and innovation can be successfully implemented in the strict and regulated aviation industry. The use of advanced technologies such as robotics, cameras, ArUco markers and programming languages can lead to significant improvements in efficiency, safety and cost savings. The Hague University of Applied Sciences and KLM’s collaboration on this project is a shining example of how industry and academia can work together to drive progress and improve operations in the aviation industry.
Challenges during the project
There were some hard challenges during the project. The first thing we ran into were the costs of the automated tool changer that were way higher than what we could afford. The plan was to get a company to lend us a kit under which we could use during our entire project. We started contacting companies very early on in the project to make sure the parts would arrive on time.
At the start of the project, we found that it was not so time-efficient to go to KLM Engine Services every day. So we chose to have a set day in the week to sit at KLM and work the rest of the week from The Hague University in Delft. This saved us a lot of traveling time but the hybrid way of working made it hard for us to test our produced parts and software in a final setup at KLM.
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