Week 14/2019

Robots test cockpit devices

Thanks to RoCCET, consistent and reliable predictions about service life are possible.
Thanks to RoCCET, consistent and reliable predictions about service life are possible.
Is an LED light a little too dark? Is a switch worn out? Control units in the cockpit must always function properly in order to ensure safety in air traffic. Lufthansa Technik has developed a system that automatically tests these devices – and at the same time enables reliable forecasts to be made about the remaining service life of the components.

So far, maintenance staff have decided whether lights or switches need to be replaced by looking and touching. But the optical and haptic sensation is very subjective. And it is impossible to predict whether a functional part will be worn out in a few days or weeks.

Fully automated and always consistent

In the Robot-Controlled Cockpit Electronics Testing (RoCCET) project, Lufthansa Technik's Aircraft Component Services division has developed the world's first robot system for such tests. The robot uses a gripper arm to operate all switches on the operating units of a cockpit and measures the forces that are required. A camera simultaneously records the luminous intensity of all displays from different angles. And another camera looks for external damage to the instruments.

All this is done fully automatically and always according to uniform specifications. The system thus reduces the workload for employees and the maintenance effort per unit by up to two hours.

Looking to the future

What's more, the measurement data collected by the robot can be combined with existing aircraft data and analyzed alongside it. This makes it possible to determine exactly when the life cycle of a display or switch is coming to an end. This predictive maintenance enables the part to be replaced in good time before it fails. This increases the reliability of the equipment and reduces unplanned maintenance of the aircraft – their operational readiness increases accordingly.

Lufthansa Technik developed the robot-based test procedure from 2016 to 2018. It is currently in the integration phase and is to be used in 2019 for testing the first cockpit control units. In the future, the method can also be used for testing other control units in the cockpit or cabin.