Fraunhofer IFAM

Automated maintenance of large composite structures

Description of the company
Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM is part of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the world’s leading applied research organization. In Stade we develop solutions for automated assembly, joining and machining technologies. We work on projects mainly for the aircraft and wind power industry. Our focus lays on the topics of large structure assembly, adhesive and surface applications, innovative lightweight materials, production-related prototyping, robotic systems, process optimization, digital factory planning and metrology devices. 

Research in the field of lightweight construction focuses primarily on manufacturing processes and machining of these structures. The maintenance of large structures, especially those made of composite materials, is another topic with great potential for optimization through automation.  In Germany, the share of renewable energy in 2022 was approx. 44 % with a constantly increasing share. Half of which is coming from wind power plants alone. The maintenance of these plants is currently a cost-intensive process that requires highly specified personnel and equipment. In addition to inspection, defect identification and repair, maintenance also includes surface cleaning for increased efficiency.

In order to carry out maintenance in a cost and time efficient manner, it must be carried out on site to avoid very labour-intensive dismantling, transportation and reassembly. Moreover, it is very time-consuming to bring staff to these large structures to carry out the necessary maintenance work. An automated system is therefore needed to reliably operate on the surface. This system should be able to operate autonomously as well as be controlled remotely. A major challenge is the movement on a flat surface, in great heights, that is vertically to the ground.

Aims of the project
The aim of this project is the conceptual design of an automated system to work on large composite structures such as wind turbines and other similar constructions. The concept should consider the following aims:

  • Reliability and safety while operating
  • Lightweight construction
  • Environmentally friendly operation
  • Competitive process times
  • In-line process control
  • High load capacity

The development process should cover the following point:

  • Research of the state of the art in large composite structure maintenance
  • Identification of sub-problems and requirements e.g:
    • Transportation of the system to the structure
    • Movement on the target surface
    • Media supply lines
    • Process types (inspection, rework/repair, cleaning, …)
  • Investigation of possible technologies for the implementation of sub-solutions
  • Concept development for the automated maintenance system
  • Concept screening and refinement
  • Simulation/Visualization of the final system

Target group (students)
We are looking for a committed, open minded and interdisciplinary team in which everyone can contribute with their expertise, bachelor students are welcome. Your field of study might be:

  • Systems engineering of e.g. aircrafts, renewable energies, automotive, ships
  • Product development
  • Energy and environmental technology
  • Materials science
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Mechatronics
  • Robotics
  • Logistics

If your course of studies is not listed, don’t worry, this list is not exhaustive. Feel free to apply.

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