Rolls-Royce today demonstrated an exciting vision of how robotics could be used to revolutionise the future of engine maintenance. Bringing another element of its IntelligentEngine vision to life, Rolls-Royce teamed up with academics from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University to discuss and demonstrate a wide range of potential future technologies at the Farnborough Airshow, from 'snake' robots that work their way through the engine like an endoscope, to miniature, collaborative 'swarm' robots that crawl through the insides of an engine.
The IntelligentEngine vision, first introduced by Rolls-Royce at the Singapore Airshow earlier this year, describes a world where product and service have become so closely connected that they are inseparable. This vision drives activity across a range of fields, including robotics, with a particular focus on digital technologies.
The robotic technologies displayed today each represent an opportunity to improve the way engine maintenance is delivered, for example by speeding up inspection processes or by removing the need to take an engine off an aircraft in order to perform maintenance work. This has the potential to offer significant benefits for customers by reducing the cost of engine maintenance, increasing the availability of an engine and ensuring any maintenance required is completed as quickly as possible.
The technologies on display were at varying levels of maturity, and included:
Speaking at the event, Richard Goodhead, Rolls-Royce, Senior Vice President – Marketing, said: "The advancements we are making in robotics are a great example of us bringing our IntelligentEngine vision to life. By exploring how we might use the rapid progress we are seeing in fields such as digital and robotics, we are ensuring that Rolls-Royce will continue to lead the way in service innovation, offering the very best value for our customers."
Dr James Kell, Rolls-Royce, On-Wing Technology Specialist, added: "While some of these technologies, such as the SWARM robots, are still a long way from becoming an everyday reality, others, such as the remote boreblending robot, are already being tested and will begin to be introduced over the next few years. We have a great network of partners who support our work in this field and it is clear that this is an area with the potential to revolutionise how we think about engine maintenance. "
Rolls-Royce works on robotics in partnership with a wide range of research organisations around the world, including the Harvard University and the University of Nottingham, which is a Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre (UTC). Each of Rolls-Royce's 31 UTCs addresses a key technology; and collectively they tackle a wide range of engineering disciplines – from combustion and aerodynamics to noise and manufacturing technology. This consistent strategy of developing long-term relationships with universities has provided Rolls-Royce with close contact to world-class academic institutions and given the business access to a wealth of talent and creativity to support its vision. In 2017 Rolls-Royce invested £1.4 billion on research and development.