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Automated inspection and maintenance of steel structures


Task 1 of the AIMS Project 'The feasibility of high volume surface preparation methods has recommended to the Partners that two main methods of surface preparation are pursued. These are water-jetting and dry blasting as these methods outperformed the others tested, although sponge jetting also proved to be effective. These are the methods used in Task 3.
An investigation into the surface cleanliness and the subsequent performance of the replacement protective coating has shown that these methods are successful in achieving a sound repair. There are current standards available for both of the recommended methods but advice into their reformulation was carried into Task 2.

Task 2:
On the completion of Task2, know-how towards the commercial realization of two non-destructive testing devices has been established. The first of these is a device which uses an image processing based system for classification of corroded steel plate. It can also be used to determine whether steel has been cleaned to the current ISO standard. Its neural network support will allow operation according to existing Visual Standards or higher resolution classification on a new 'standard exposure time' basis. The second device uses ultra-sound excited, lockin thermography to detect hidden defects and corrosion through coatings on steel work. This allows for location of defects and subsequently patch repair of the structure realizing substantial savings in the Industry.

Task 3:
At the conclusion of the AIMS project Task 3 entitled "RECONFIGURABLE SURFACE RESTORATION TOOL CONCEPTS AND MECHANISMS" has resulted in the enabling technology for the further development of a flexible tool system for restoration of steel structures. This tool has the following capabilities:
-Suitable for use with either water jet blasting or dry blasting processes;
-Able to position the blasting nozzle with the optimal distance and orientation for restoration with respect to the steel surface for both wet and dry blasting processes based on the optimal process parameters found by calibration;
-Suitable for interfacing to an automated blasting solution based on the commercial robot control system KRC2 from Kuka Robots in Augsburg, Germany and for use in semi-automated system;
-Offer local pollution containment capabilities.

Moreover know-how in the following areas have been established:
-Optimal process parameters for wet and dry blasting for steel surface restoration;
-Quantitative data on the capabilities of a local pollution containment device for the tool system.
A prototype experimental tool has been tested and evaluated and local containment device has been tested.

Task 4:
The conclusion of the AIMS project Task 4 entitled "TOOL DELIVERY SCENARIOS" has resulted in the enabling technology for the evaluation of different equipment, operation and access scenarios. Simulations of the restoration process have been developed for the purposes of marketing, restoration concepts and equipment evaluation and ultimately for planning purposes. The result comprise a library of CAD models of typical restoration structures and access solutions and animated models of the tools and the tool handling systems, demonstrating the control simulation.

Task 5:
The following goals of the AIMS project Task 5 entitled " CONTROL CONCEPTS FOR AN AUTOMATED MAN-MACHINE SYSTEM " have been met:
-A definition of global and local environments for planning, modelling, and control;
-Local work cycle definition including target collision detection and easy control;
-Incorporation of sensors into the control system;
-A simple Human-machine interface.

The industrial robot controller KRC1 with an attached robot system KR125 has been used as target platform. Using its PC base, both partners, ISW and KUKA have been able to perform implementations for the system and work effectively.
For the use of a robot in the target environment, a collision detection concept has been developed involving a virtual surface concept. The result will include a finished version of the concept with a functional library that has been derived for implementation. The collision detection library will be used to implement a new manual control interface for the robot. The new "computer assisted control" will allow the user to drive the robot with limited set of manual control while ensuring that the two main functions of collision avoidance and surface acquisition are automatically handled.

Task 6:
After the research and outcomes of the AIMS project were reviewed, the training requirements and methods of certification have been defined for those working with the new automated technology in the restoration of steel structures. These areas include the construction industry and the ship repair industry.
AIMS addresses the pressing need to improve steel coating repair processes. Using current technology, inspection is highly subjective and surface preparation methods have associated high costs, low productivity and considerable hazards for workers and the natural environment. Lack of confidence and the difficulty of carrying out large scale inspection means that 100% removal of surface coatings is, unfortunately, the widespread practice. Thus the principal industrial objective of AIMS is to establish the know-how for two closely linked systems, (i) a non-destructive testing method giving quantified condition assessment of coated steelwork and (ii) equipment delivering alternative surface preparation methods for coating repair of large scale steelwork. With post-project development and exploitation, these will be produced and marketed in the construction, shipping and petro-chemical repair and maintenance industries. To maximise exploitation potential, project dissemination will be managed to build-up industry awareness, interest and market demand for product realisations of the new technologies. AIMS is extremely timely because it takes advantage of the growing acceptance of surface tolerant coatings. The new NDT know-how will give the confidence needed for selective preparation and recoating of structures, with potential project cost savings of up to 75%. Technology to be worked out for alternative surface preparation methods, with integrated management of pollution debris, will substantially support this. The anticipated break-through in industrial methods will be achieved by concentrating on currently unsolved, high risk technologies which include: - Investigation into quantification of surface preparation standards and recommendations for the use of alternative surface restoration methods. One major criterion will be the suitability for high surface area preparation rates, i.e. greater than 10m2/h. This evaluation work will provide important industry guidelines on the use of the alternative surface preparation methods. - Automated non-destructive testing methods suitable for quantified condition assessment of large scale coated steelwork, based on thermography and image processing. - Reconfigurable and flexible surface preparation tools with local pollution containment and suited to general work surface geometry for a variety of steel surface restoration methods. The developed tools are to be suited for integration into an automated man-machine system, thus eliminating the requirement of fully manual tool handling. This will safe-guard worker health and substantially reduce the environmental protection costs. - Concepts for automated man-machine systems to enable automated steel surface restoration. Such concepts will integrate the NDT classification methods and flexible tools developed in AIMS and provide a useful basis for post-project development and market promotion of the know-how. Through its make-up, the consortium is uniquely placed to develop and exploit the project outcomes beyond project completion. It includes firms working in the inspection and steel structure restoration industries, a producer of coatings and coating standards, mechatronic equipment/plant designer-producers, and a pan-European facility owners and operators consultative group. Realistic evaluation and experimentation will by supported by two university based research providers.

Funding Scheme

CSC - Cost-sharing contracts


Kuka Roboter GmbH
144,Bluecherstrasse 144
86165 Augsburg

Participants (5)

City University
United Kingdom
Northampton Square
EC1V 0HB London
JB Painting Inspectors Ltd.
United Kingdom
Green Lane
NE10 0QH Tyne And Wear
Midroc Alucrom AB

401 24 Göteborg
Paschos K. Katsikopoulos SA
7,Dervenakion Street 7
18545 Piraeus
36,Seidenstra¯e 36
70174 Stuttgart