Commissioning of first robot-based ct system

“RoboCT” analyzes the quality of vehicles in automotive production without disassembly

© Fraunhofer IIS/Paul Pulkert
A RoboCT setup with the X-ray source and detector used for imaging.

In cooperation with the BMW Group, the Fraunhofer Development Center for X-ray Technology EZRT has developed a robot-assisted computed tomography system that, unlike conventional CT systems, reaches inspection positions on objects with complex shapes, such as a car body.

Around 13 years of development work went into this technology, financed both by publicly funded and by independent research projects. It was originally developed especially for aerospace testing, for example to inspect entire wings for defects. In close cooperation with engineers from the BMW Group at the Research and Innovation Centre (FIZ) in Munich, the CT system was installed directly at the interface between development and production, and was put into operation in July 2018.

In the setup there, four cooperating robots travel around the vehicle and move the imaging components, such as the X-ray source and detector, correspondingly. This allows RoboCT to access practically all positions on the vehicle. The system is capable of recording three-dimensional CT data down to a scale of approx. 100 micrometers. With this technology, objects can be analyzed in detail with extreme precision and without damaging them. Until now, performing this level of analysis required the relevant components to be disassembled and analyzed in a separate CT system.

The robot-assisted CT in its current form as brought about by these developments is just the beginning of a larger idea: in the long term, so-called cognitive sensor systems will exclusively aquire relevant data. Moreover, the cognitive sensor system itself will determine which data is relevant. This will provide customers with a monitoring system that helps them optimize their processes. It should be specified here that the word “process” does not refer only to the traditional manufacturing process, but also to processes in materials development, construction, maintenance, commerce and recycling. And it is also in this direction that Fraunhofer EZRT is shifting the focus of its research activities.

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