EPCOR Puts Customers in the Driver’s Seat for Virtual Inspections

EPCOR Virtual Table Inspection
Credit: EPCOR

AFI KLM E&M subsidiary EPCOR has paired robotics with video conferencing technology to provide a more immersive virtual inspection experience to customers. The MRO provider for APU and pneumatic components is now offering Virtual Table Inspections (VTI) where customers worldwide can “ride through the shop as if they were there,” it says.

The VTI offering consists of a robot, developed by Silicon Valley robotics specialist OhmniLabs, fitted with a 4K camera, surround speakers, microphones and a magnifying glass for close-up parts inspection. The robot, dubbed PYTHON—named for EPCOR mechanics Piet Otten and Ton Springintveld, who have been frequent winners of the company’s internal Innovation Award competition—can be controlled via remote device and move around at a maximum of 1 mph. Unlike other virtual inspection offerings where video conferencing occurs from a static position, customers are able to take control of the robot and drive it inside EPCOR’s shop to inspect parts, communicate with engineers and mechanics about repair solutions and invite colleagues to join from their own remote locations.

Piet Otten and Ton Springintveld with PYTHON
Piet Otten and Ton Springintveld with the PYTHON robot, which was named after them.
Credit: EPCOR

According to a spokesperson for AFI KLM E&M, the company and its subsidiaries began experimenting with proximity solutions following COVID-19 related travel restrictions, but video conferencing technologies and devices provided constraints because customers needed to guide technicians in the shop to get the right footage. “With the PYTHON robot, we are able to give control back to the customer. The customer is free to move around and inspect the parts they need to see,” says the spokesperson. He adds that the VTI solution was already in development prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was accelerated due to travel restriction constraints and introduced at EPCOR’s Amsterdam facilities.

The software component that allows customers to “drive” the PYTHON robot is built on OhmniLabs’ platform and ECPOR is working with both the robotics startup and AFI KLM E&M’s The MRO Lab digital studio to develop new functionalities, such as the ability to share live borescope footage while doing an incoming inspection.

“We have received a lot of positive feedback on our robot solution and I expect that even in post COVID-19 time, the VTI will outperform the in-person table inspections,” says Bernard Kuiken, commercial director, EPCOR. “Also, foreign authorities visiting our facility for auditing and approvals are welcome to use PYTHON to visit the shop.”

According to AFI KLM E&M, EPCOR is the “front runner” in the project and it plans to implement the VTI service in other AFI KLM E&M facilities.

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for AviationWeek.com, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.