By Maggie Sieger – When Hong Kong started planning a road tunnel 50 meters (164 feet) below sea level in 2012, local engineers had to find a way to keep the cutters in the massive boring shield in shape and the blades sharp enough to cut stone. Workers would squeeze between the shield, which is 17 meters in diameter, and the living rock to inspect the business end of the machine — a tight spot the Hong Kong team wanted to avoid as much as possible.
The founders of OC Robotics, a U.K.-based builder of “snake arm” robots, thought they could help. They suggested replacing the human inspectors entirely with OC’s innovative machines that can thread their 6-foot-long mechanical limbs into tight spots.
Today, an OC robot not only inspects the shield but also cleans it with a high-pressure water jet and measures the sharpness of the cutting surface with a laser. “This is faster and easier, and it keeps people safe,” says Andrew Graham, OC Robotics co-founder.
The robot’s dexterity and skills so impressed engineers from GE Aviation that they acquired OC Robotics last summer. The company believes snake-arm robots will be useful for jet engine maintenance, allowing workers to do as much work with the engine still on the wing as possible. That’s because removing an engine not only takes time, but also could take a plane out of service for days, impacting an airline’s bottom line. more>