TWI is using automation to support the development of a number of related technologies. In particular, the use of robotics can reduce costs in manufacturing through faster throughput, higher accuracy and more consistent output. In addition, quality can be improved through the use of feedback controls to ensure processes continue to operate within optimum process parameters, reducing rework and scrap. Robotics and automation can contribute to a more inclusive workplace by reducing the level of physical effort required of operators, while remotely operated systems can also enhance safety for technologies deployed in hazardous or aggressive environments.
TWI has successfully integrated serial and parallel axis robots into additive manufacturing (AM), welding processes and non-destructive evaluation (NDE). The use of high torque robotic systems for friction stir welding has been deployed alongside high accuracy systems for laser, electron beam and conventional welding, as well as direct metal deposition AM and rapid NDE of large and complex geometries. Collaborative robots (CoBots) have been used to enable robots and humans to share the same workspace safely.
However, automation is about more than moving things around using active systems. Passive systems can be used to track the movement of objects to ensure coverage, limit movement and, in the case of the TrainNDT system, to link with simulation software and dummy test pieces to provide realistic training for NDE operators within a safe and cost effective environment.