AV&R's robotic systems are designed to automate surface finishing (profiling, polishing, blending, deburring) on critical parts of aircraft engines, such as blades. These systems operate using dedicated software called BrainWave which orchestrates the interactions between all of the robotic system’s components. For several years, AV&R has been developing BrainWave software to facilitate the use of the robotic system by its operators. One of the features developed is visualization of the system following the concept of digital twins.

What is the concept of digital twins? How does this innovative concept apply in the case of robotic systems for complex industries such as aeronautics? What are its concrete uses? And how do digital twins improve the use and performance of robotic systems?

Definition of Digital Twins

A digital twin is a virtual replica of a living or non-living physical entity. By linking the physical and virtual worlds, the data of a physical finishing process is easily disseminated and captured to create a digital replica of the actual process. Virtual replication can thus exist simultaneously with the physical entity and allows it to model future processes that will be implemented.

Simulation and Visualization of Physical Elements

The BrainWave software allows users to put into practice the concept of digital twins by designing a replica of the physical cell containing the robot. In practical terms, the operator of the robotic system can see on his/her computer the structure and the physical elements of the cell such as the robot, the motors, the surface finishing tools, the elements physically supporting the parts in the cell, etc.

Beyond visualizing the physical elements of the robotic system, BrainWave has made it possible to model the limits of the cell, allowing it to represent the potential collisions and the limits of the robot's movements. This visualization represents a notable aid to the programming of the robotic system.

Simulation and Visualization of the Workpiece

The upstream visualization of process execution allows for an accurate prediction of actions and thus reduces the risk of damaging parts. All actions concerning the workpiece are reproduced in BrainWave, whether it be for material removal or surface finish improvement. Modelling these actions is an essential tool for planning process execution. Thus, process adjustments are facilitated and lead the way to the automation of process recipe generation.

Digital twin software reveals a potential collision between parts while testing a manufacturing operation.
Digital twin of a robot virtually executes a machining operation.
Programming the projection of a path in BrainWave.

A Replica of the Functioning of the Robotic System

Being able to simulate the actions of the robotic system makes it possible to validate the correct functioning and to identify any problems beforehand. BrainWave views the entire sequence and validates the risk of collision with cell equipment. It also makes it possible to identify any singularities in the robot's movements. The nodes and positions that make up the robot's path between two workstations are easily visualized, giving the operator better control. This visualization confers other advantages such as the reduction of robot wear through better control of the navigation nodes or optimization of cycle time (process execution).

Real-Time Data Acquisition

A robot performs a blade profiling and polishing operation that was tested and optimized using digital twin software.

Beyond the visualization and simulation of the robotic finishing process execution, Brainwave allows you to collect in real time and during production, essential data concerning the cell. There are many and varied data: robot position, applied force, robot speed, etc. The utility of this real-time data acquisition is to better understand the steps performed by the system and, thus, to optimally predict maintenance interventions.

Advantages for Robotic Automation

With the possible visualization and simulation in BrainWave, the concept of digital twins applied to robotic systems offers significant advantages. For example, the cycle time in the aircraft engine parts manufacturing or repair industry being critical, the optimization of travel times within the robotic cell results in significant time savings.

A robot performs fillet radius polishing on a large part after the process was tested and optimized using digital twin software.

Gathering process related data while processing parts allows the building of a knowledge base that improves recipe creation capabilities.

Preventive maintenance is also a direct consequence of the use of the digital twins concept for a robotic cell. With real-time data collection, trends are predictable and allow proactive maintenance actions, to reduce production downtime or to optimize the life of system components.

AV&R has adopted the concept of digital twins via its BrainWave software, thus optimizing the execution of surface finishing processes at various levels. In addition, digital replica is a real aid to the programming and maintenance of robotic systems. The digital twins concept allows connection to sensors, data analysis (big data) or artificial intelligence. It is gradually spreading to the industry, notably aerospace, and seems to have a bright future ahead of it.

This article was written by David Mailhot, Development Team Manager, AV&R (Montreal, Quebec). For more information, visit here .

Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2020 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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