Aviation Business: With more and more MRO specialists looking at incorporating robotics into their operations, could you shed some light on Lufthansa Technik’s progress in this arena, highlighting, in particular, the company’s Caire project and who you work with?
Dr. Henrik Schmutzler: The challenge for automation in the MRO business is that you do not have a serial production where you produce one part multiple times, but we have parts from all A/C types with different damages to be repaired.
This leads to a higher need for adaptive processes as compared to other industries. In CAIRE, we have a fully adaptive process, where the surface of the part is scanned and based on that information the milling path for the scarfing is planned in the software.
The project members involved in the publicly funded project include us as project lead, alongside several Airbus entities, such as Airbus Defence and Space, Airbus Helicopters, and Airbus Group Innovation.
We are also working in close collaboration with iSAM AG, DLR, W+R Automation GmbH, UST Umweltsensortechnik GmbH, Luratec AG, and MAPAL Dr. Kress KG on the project.
AVB: What type of operational efficiencies have you been able to achieve with the introduction of robotics? Are there certain jobs where robots excel better than human workers?
HS: Certain process step times can be reduced significantly up to 80%. For scarfing for composite repairs manual and automated processes have high requirements for accuracy. The worker needs to sand away composite plies of 0,125mm thickness to depths of 3-4 mm.
In many cases, the worker has no or little orientation on the exact depth during scarfing. The results are very high process times and a limit to the accuracy. The robot has always a reference to his position and is thus more accurate and on top reproducible.
AVB: With such a high demand for engineering talent across the global industry, how important will robotics be in alleviating this demand and do you think it will soon become a necessity for MRO firms to remain competitive?
HS: Many processes become more complex due to technological developments of new parts and A/C types. The requirements for engineering increase and the requirements for workers as well.
Robotics will play a stronger role because it has reached a stage where adaptive and self-learning processes become easier to implement. Still, the engineering effort is high in introducing robotic technologies into operation.
AVB: What are Lufthansa Technik’s plans to continue expanding the capabilities of robotics within its MRO operations?
HS: We have many ideas and ongoing projects as well as the exchange between our products. Thus, this sector will grow further.
AVB: How realistic is it to hold the opinion that robotics may one day be able to completely replace the human element within MRO operations?
HS: Due to the individual by-case repair scenarios we have in many cases an experienced operator will most likely remain. Rare operations will be less cost efficient for automation. Shifting repetitive often occurring processes to automation will increase but certainly not entire repairs.