UK-based global industrial technology group Rolls-Royce has announced the launch of a project to revolutionise the inspection, maintenance and repair of aeroengines. The project is named Reinstate and is supported by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), a UK public-private partnership aimed at driving aerospace technological development in the country. (ATI programmes are funded by Innovate UK, which is Britain’s innovation agency.)
Under the project, engineers will be working on 20 technologies aimed at making the maintenance and repair of aeroengines more efficient and less disruptive for airlines, allowing the repair of components that currently can’t be repaired and must be scrapped, and reducing environmental impacts. It is expected the project will also benefit the nuclear and offshore wind sectors, among others.
One of the technologies being developed is snake robots. These will move inside jet engines, accessing complex parts, thereby making possible repairs that are impossible with current tools.
Another aspect of the programme is the development of sensors embedded in the engines, which will transmit data while the engines are running and the aircraft is flying. This will allow improvements in predicting when engines require maintenance.
Also covered by the project is the development of inspection and analysis tools. These will allow the inspection of parts located deep within engines, while they are being repaired.
Further, advanced automated repair technologies are being pursued, which will be able to repair engine components which currently can’t be repaired. This would mean that those parts would not have to be scrapped, as is currently the case.
The research is aimed in part at miniature inspection and maintenance tools, as well as new repair technologies, for Rolls-Royce’s current engines. But it is also aimed at developing advanced means to maintain and repair materials and components in future low-carbon-emission engines, including those using electric technology, as well as for composite fan technology. Composite fan technology will reduce engine weight and will be applied in Rolls-Royce’s next-generation engine, UltraFan.
The environmental benefits of these developments would include the avoidance of unnecessary maintenance, the reduction of the scrapping of parts by increasing the number of components that can be repaired, and the reduction of the movement of maintenance personnel and parts through the use of digital inspection and ‘key-hole surgery’ technologies on engines. Together, these could significantly reduce the aviation industry’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.
Project Reinstate is based in Derby in England (the home of Rolls-Royce) and will run for three years. Apart from the company and the ATI, the other participants in the programme include small and medium-sized enterprises BJR Systems, Clifton Photonics, and Roke Manor Research, as well as the Manufacturing Technology Centre, and the universities of Nottingham, of Sheffield, and of the West of England. The project is also supported by the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and, in addition to technology, also covers capability and supply chain issues.