2008 Interagency Partnership Midwest

Award Year 

The technology transferred during this project was a new type of robotic crane, the Aerial Multi-axis Platform (RoboCrane/AMP), which originally was developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The RoboCrane/AMP uses six computer-controlled hoists and cables to stabilize and maneuver suspended cargo. The cables are directed through three pairs of pulleys mounted in a triangular configuration to a ceiling or overhead gantry. The cables descend inward from the pulleys and (more) attach to a much smaller suspended frame onto which a platform or tool can be attached. The RoboCrane/AMP features stable control over the position, orientation, and velocity of a suspended platform. The computer control system automatically adjusts cable lengths to maneuver the suspended platform through a large work volume underneath the pulley triangle. The operator can intuitively drive the platform from a single joystick. The initial recipient of the transferred technology was the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center (ALC). The first RoboCrane/AMP systems were installed in its hangar used for de-painting cargo aircraft such as the C-130 and C-141. Additional RoboCrane/AMP systems are being installed in a new hangar for the C-5, the largest aircraft in the fleet. The need for this technology was clear. Depainting and maintaining large aircraft have always posed problems for workers, especially when trying to access elevated surfaces. The existing floor-based equipment used to position personnel, sometimes called “shooting booms” or “cherry-pickers,” is difficult and time consuming to maneuver. Scaffolding, hoses, and other ground clutter also inhibit efficient movement around the aircraft, which increases the overall flow-time of the aircraft in the de-paint process. Recent changes in environmental regulations have reduced the use of chemical solvents and increased the need for abrasive blasting techniques, which lead to increased operator fatigue and injury for workers wearing breathing apparatus in dustfilled hazardous environments. Each organization on the project team played a critical role in making the overall project successful. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) provided funding for the project and organized the various team members. NIST provided the general technical expertise to implement the RoboCrane/AMP research for this application. U.S. Technology Corporation, a supplier of plastic media blasting equipment, provided the critical expertise necessary to adapt the RoboCrane/ AMP for aircraft maintenance and essential insights into the ergonomic design of the system to allow safe and intuitive operator control of the process. The corporation also provided critical new blasting equipment and techniques that allowed use of simultaneous nozzles to drastically increase overall de-paint efficiency and facilities to perform harsh environment testing. In addition, U.S. Technology purchased all system components and helped fabricate and install the prototype. It has since licensed the applicable patents from NIST, and has built and installed production units. (less)