IMITec and SWISS Develop Remote-Controlled Aircraft Inspection Device
Zurich-based non-destructive testing (NDT) specialist IMITec GmbH has developed a remote-controlled aircraft inspection device to detect damage more efficiently without the need to have a certified NDT inspector on-site. The device, which began development in early 2019 with project partner SWISS International Airlines, is set to make its debut later this year.
“Any damage to the aircraft must be inspected by personnel specially trained and certified. The training of these personnel is very extensive and time-intensive, and for these reasons there is a worldwide shortage of inspection personnel,” explains Christian Duerager, managing director, IMITec. If suitable personnel are not available at the location of a damaged aircraft, the result is an AOG situation that costs airlines money.
Duerager says IMITec’s patented device makes it possible to complete NDT inspections of an aircraft remotely, with certified personnel controlling the process and analyzing the results at their home base before determining whether the aircraft can be released.
The device itself is a climbing robot that moves on ferromagnetic rails, which are attached to the aircraft structure using a vacuum technique and feature an innovative control mechanism to guide the robot over its surface. Once the rails are in place, the device automatically connects to them and scans an area of interest. If needed, a remote operator can steer it to a selected position.
The device collects 3D eddy current measurement data to detect cracks and the depth and dimension of damage such as dents. According to Duerager, inspection times depend on the damage size, but for typical dent inspection it would take approximately 10 minutes to inspect the area and generate a report. Duerager says other methods would take more than an hour for the same results.
IMITec has finished its production and testing of the first prototype device, which is currently at a client site to be tested in a real line maintenance environment. The company expects the test to be finished by the end of June, at which point it will implement any needed improvements before getting the device ready for market in October.
“Based on the experience gained during the coronavirus crisis, we have many requests for such a remote-controlled inspection device from air cargo companies because they mainly have no line maintenance capability abroad and their fleet is relatively old,” says Duerager.
According to IMITec, the device can be used with all aircraft types, but right now it is mainly used for aircraft made of aluminum. IMITec plans to equip the next generation of the device with an ultrasonic probe, which will be used for the detection of delamination on aircraft made with composite materials.