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This Suction Robot Improves Safety at the Workplace

Invert Robotics' robot keeps humans out of cramped and dangerous spaces. Source: maxon motor

December 10, 2018      

Although many people are afraid that robots could take away their jobs, in many cases, this is absolutely desirable — for example, when a job involves a high risk of injury. This is the view of New Zealand startup Invert Robotics, which has been developing robots to inspect huge milk tanks since 2010. There are many such tanks in New Zealand, an island nation that has more cows than human inhabitants. About a quarter of the country’s export revenues are generated by dairy products.

“Our ultimate goal is for nobody to have to work in cramped spaces any longer,” said Neil Fletcher, managing director of Invert Robotics. This will prevent many accidents, some of which are caused by inhaling carbon dioxide or other hazardous gases, he added.

The challenge of non-magnetic surfaces

Before robots were able take on these jobs, the engineers of Invert Robotics had to overcome a challenge. While there already were robots that were able to move along ferromagnetic walls, a solution for non-magnetic surfaces had yet to be found.

“We developed a technology based on suction cups,” explained James Robertson, chief technology officer of Invert Robotics.

Invert Robotics suction robot improves workplace safety.

An inspection robot from Invert Robotics. Source: maxon motor

The initial solution required a large vacuum pump, he said. However, the engineers improved the design so that a pump is no longer necessary.

“The current system is so energy-efficient that the robot remains stuck to the surface for some time even after having been switched off,” Robertson said.

Meanwhile, Invert Robotics has expanded the field of application for its inspection robots to include all types of enclosed spaces, mainly tanks in the food processing and chemical industries.

However, the suction technology and cameras of Invert Robotics’ robots are not limited to use inside tanks. This was recognized some time ago by the airplane maintenance industry, where finding cracks or other damage to surfaces is a critical task. Time is an important factor, as the plane needs to return to the air as soon as possible.

Matters are complicated further by the difficulty of moving along the exterior of an airplane’s fuselage for maintenance personnel. These are ideal conditions for Invert Robotics’ inspection robot. Its camera delivers high-resolution images of the fuselage to the maintenance personnel.

Workers can stay on the ground and do not have to brave the heights with lifting platforms or ropes to inspect the plane for damage. This drastically reduces the inspection time.

“No modifications are necessary to use our robots on an airplane,” said Robertson.

Preferred solution from the maxon online shop

Invert Robotics inspects aircraft fuselage

The mobile robot from Invert Robotics can inspect aircraft for cracks. Source: maxon motor

The engineers at Invert Robotics are constantly exploring the limits of all the components to find the optimal solution. After all, their robots must function reliably and defy gravity as well as other forces.

For the wheel drives, Invert Robotics relies on EC 45 flat brushless flat motors combined with GP 42 C planetary gearheads. These are controlled by ESCON controllers.

“We’ve used maxon drives since the first prototypes and have never been disappointed,” Robertson said.

He and his colleagues at Invert Robotics mainly rely on the maxon online shop to configure and order their desired drives. If any questions come up that cannot be answered by the data sheet, maxon specialists stand ready to offer support.

Editor’s note: This article is a special sponsored submission by maxon motor ag and appears in driven: The maxon motor magazine.