The device is said to enable smooth masking on parts varying in shape
November 29, 2022
HUNTSVILLE, Ala.—The aerospace industry’s need for an automated tool that could apply masking tape with precision brought two prominent robotics companies together during the pandemic to craft a solution. Engineers from the two companies, Aerobotix and FerRobotics, collaborated to develop end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) that ensures more efficient production results, according to a release from the companies.
After months of prototypes and testing during the pandemic, the new Active Taping Kit (ATK) tool was completed. The result: FerRobotics’s patented Active Compliant Technology (ACT) enables a robot to use varying pressure when applying tape to an aircraft. The tool allows for smooth masking on parts varying in shape. It is also said to put down perfectly straight tape lines where the customer needs them.
“Customers have been asking Aerobotix to automate the masking process for years,” said Chris Kolb, vice president of sales at U.S.-based Aerobotix, in the release. “The response was always ‘Wouldn’t that be great,’ but the technology required to do it correctly just wasn’t available yet. The FerRobotics ACT device lets the robot ‘feel’ the part and instantly adjust the pressure used to apply the tape. We needed this sensitivity to put masking tape down correctly and not damage high value parts.”
The FerRobotics ATK, an example of Industry 4.0, provides precision control of all individual process parameters: contact force, cutting, and tape consumption. The tool offers robot-compatible sensitive tape application combined with all the benefits of the ACT system cooperation, according to the release.
“The ATK offers the highest process quality from one source, and with a design that’s compact and light,” said Dr. Ronald Naderer, founder and CEO of Austria-based FerRobotics, in a statement. “It’s extremely durable and is designed to apply various kinds of tapes on any part or surface with exact repeatability and without bubbles or wrinkles. This joint project with Aerobotix has resulted in an innovative product that should thoroughly satisfy customer needs.”
The ATK reportedly exceeded expectations for precision and reliability when it underwent testing at Aerobotix’s in-house process laboratory. The facility houses a range of automated systems used to paint, cure, sand, and inspect products for aerospace and defense customers. The ATK’s automated masking process is currently being tested on several aircraft, according to the release.
Funding for this international development project was provided by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), led by Dr. Carl Lombard, materials research engineer. The scientific research organization recognized the potential value in the EOAT concept and assessed that manufacturing downtime during the pandemic offered a good opportunity to support development and testing. Also, Dr. Lombard’s exposure to programs where manual masking is impacting costs and delivery schedules made him, and the AFRL, the right fit for financially backing the development of this new solution, according to the release.
“We jokingly call it our pandemic baby,” said Aerobotix Process Engineering Manager Kent Pfeifer, who led the project’s U.S. team, in a statement. “Both of our companies had some extra bandwidth during the pandemic disruptions, and because AFRL had some funding to back us, we just went for it. We are running all types of masking tapes through the ATK and, so far, they’re all working great. What we didn’t realize going into this is that having the robot put down the first tape lines saves the painters a ton of time and errors, as they then don’t have to measure or use templates to get the tape lines accurate. The savings, in time and costs, are exceeding all our expectations.”
In November, the ATK was honored as one of only five projects to be nominated for the Econovius, a special prize under the Austrian National Innovation Award. The successful nominees were selected from more than 400 entries, according to the release.