Aerobotix and FerRoboticstwo robotics companies based in the US and Austria, respectively, have teamed up to create a new solution in response to the aerospace industry’s demand for an automated tool for the precise application of masking tape.
Collaboration between engineers from the two companies resulted in the development of end-to-end tools (EOAT). After months of prototyping and testing during the pandemic, the new Active Taping Kit (ATK) tool was completed with FerRobotics’ patented Active Compliant Technology (ACT), which allows the robot to use different pressures when applying tape to the aircraft. The tool allows you to smoothly mask parts of different shapes and apply straight or curved tape lines.
“Customers have been asking Aerobotix to automate the cloaking process for many years,” said Chris Kolb, Aerobotix VP of Sales. “The answer has always been, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice,’ but the technology needed to do it right wasn’t available yet. The FerRobotics ACT device allows the robot to “feel” the part and instantly adjust the pressure used to apply the tape. We needed that sensitivity to get the masking tape right and not damage the precious parts.”
ATK from FerRobotics is characterized by precise control of individual process parameters – contact force, cutting and tape consumption. The ready-to-use solution offers a robot-compatible sensing tape combined with the collaborative benefits of the ACT system.
“ATK offers the highest process quality from a single source and with a compact and lightweight design,” said Dr. Ronald Naderer, founder and CEO of FerRobotics. “It is extremely durable and designed to apply a variety of tapes to any part or surface with exact repeatability and without bubbles or wrinkles.”
Funding for this international project was provided by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), led by Dr. Carl Lombard, a materials research engineer. The research organization recognized the potential value of the EOAT concept and appreciated that production downtime during the pandemic provided a good opportunity to support development and testing. Additionally, Dr. Lombardo’s experience with programs where manual masking affects costs and delivery schedules made him and AFRL well suited to financially support the development of this new solution.
“We jokingly call it our pandemic baby,” said Kent Pfeiffer, chief technology officer at Aerobotix, who led the US project team. “Both of our companies had some extra bandwidth during the pandemic disruptions, and because the AFRL had the funding to support us, we just went for it. We run all types of masking tape through ATK and so far they all work great. What we didn’t realize when we started is that the robot that lays the first tape lines saves a ton of time and error because they don’t have to measure or use templates to get the exact tape lines. The time and cost savings exceed all our expectations.”
In November, ATK was noted as one of five upcoming projects nominated for the Econovius Awardspecial prize for Austrian National Innovation Award. The successful nominees were selected from over 400 applications. The Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economics presents the ANI Award annually to encourage companies to develop innovative products that contribute to the country’s economic growth.
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