Large Aircraft Robotic Sanding Solution

Aircraft Robotic Sanding Solution

Large military aircraft surfaces call for a large sander on a large robot.

Aerobotix customers often have very large surfaces requiring sanding or surface preparation. ABX developed a large aircraft robotic sanding solution by modifying an existing robot by adding an end-of-arm tool (EOAT) with three orbital sanders mounted on a robot with extended reach capability.


Robotic sanding, sometimes referred to as surface prep, is very labor intensive and difficult on the joints of the human body. ABX was contacted by a large aircraft manufacturer to automate the process and decrease the process time.


Large, deep structures create reach challenges for off-the-shelf (OTS), six axis articulated arm robots as they seldom have more then 3 meters of reach. In addition, sanding of flammable coatings on a fueled aircraft is often rated as a combustible environment (i.e. Class II, Division I) and OTS robots are not available to meet this standard. Finally, the ABX customer also requested higher through-put by moving to three sanders on the EOAT with the ability to quickly transition back to a single head. Is that all? No, integrated vacuum, force control, automated pad changing, etc.


ABX solved this challenge by converting a heavy payload FANUC R2000 robot to exceed the classification requirements for combustible dust. The heavy payload allowed ABX engineers to use an extended EOAT capable of carrying a custom built, three-headed sander with active force control and integrated vacuum lines. When working in confined spaces on the same large structures, the operators can pull a few pins and convert the system down to two or one sanding heads.


ABX presented the solution on a mock-up structure of a bomber for customer review and now has the order to build and deliver the system for production implementation. Fighter jets, cruise missiles, and Air Force depot operations are emerging users.


ABX, working with the aerospace industry and AFRL, has advanced sanding technology for large aircraft and other structures. Future contracts will even further advance the technology package feeding into cost savings for future programs.