‘Cognitive robotics’ aid helicopter blade inspection

Leonardo and Comau have developed what’s described as a ‘cognitive robotics’ platform that automates and refines the inspection of helicopter blades.


The two Italian firms claim that the new system can be used to inspect blades up to 7m, something that was previously a labour-intensive manual process. Using a combination of robotics, advanced vision systems and artificial intelligence, the robot performs autonomous tapping tests and multispectral surface inspection along the non-linear blade, measuring and verifying the structural integrity via thousands of points.

As the robot mechanically stimulates the blades, the sound response is recorded and photographed using a multi-spectral camera to detect hidden and superficial defects. The solution has been developed as a joint pilot project and was tested on-site at Leonardo’s facility in Anagni over the past year, a facility that specialises in rotor blade manufacture and aerospace composites.

“This technology demonstration project fits well in Leonardo’s strategy to transform industrial processes through digitisation,” said Mattia Cavanna, head of Technology & Innovation at Leonardo Helicopters. "It also aligns perfectly with our steadfast commitment to enhanced technical support, which in turn yields concrete benefits in terms of safety and quality.”

According to automation specialist Comau, the robot can automatically sense the inspection environment. Once a blade has been placed on the supports by the operator, the system first localises the blade, checks for any obstacles, then calculates cycle time optimisation and collision free path planning. By automating the repetitive tapping task, it’s claimed the robot removes the labour-intensive aspect of inspection, allowing the operator to focus on programming the system and overseeing the standardised process.

“Comau’s commitment to the design and development of cutting-edge technologies and solutions for elaborate processes allows us to extend the benefits of advanced automation to mission-critical sectors such as aerospace,” said Nicole Clement, chief of Comau Advanced Automation Solutions Business Unit.

“The collaboration with Leonardo gives us the opportunity to extend our innovation reach by developing a smarter, data-driven inspection system that provides an objective assessment of key structural elements within a standardised, automated and highly accurate process.”