Interview by Kal Kaur
Mr Jean-François Dupont, Chief Operating Officer at AV&R Vision & Robotics Inc. talks to Kal Kaur, Editor of AZoRobotics, about AV&R Vision & Robotics, robotic finishing and automated visual inspection.
KK: Can you provide my audience with a brief overview of AV&R, its background and the core objectives for this company?
JFD: AV&R is defined as the leader in industrial automation for over 15 years. We offer solutions to optimise manufacturing processes and quality control mainly for gas turbine, focussed on critical parts (rotating parts). We have a very strong engineering team whom specialises in mission vision and robotics and we have a very strong name in the industry for Robotic Finishing and Automated Visual Inspection.
KK: With the main vision for AV&R being a world reference in robotic finishing and automated visual inspection, can you briefly describe what each technique involves and the benefits to each process?
JFD: Right now, there's a lot of pressure on the aerospace and the energy industry. The economy and developmental issues are forcing the engine designers to develop new parts that require complex processes through production and these designs require very strict quality control. These new parts are critical in achieving the performance guarantee. So based on all these new requirements, it's almost impossible to achieve this manually. Right now AV&R is probably the only company in the world with a clear strategic plan to attack these problems. If you look at our solution, it looks simple, but what we do is use a robot with a camera to reproduce human movement with more accuracy and repeatability. The environmental issues are applying stress on the industry to change their strategy in terms of their technology.
KK: AV&R commit to meeting the needs and constraints of each factory. Can you describe how the company have been able to maintain this commitment over the years?
JFD: We maintain this commitment with innovation. AV&R invests 17% of its revenue into research and development to come up with new technologies and to help develop a global market for our products.
KK: From a geographical perspective, AV&R have a considerable spread of business across the globe. What is the biggest appeal in your service for your customers worldwide and why?
JFD: Actually, since we are very focussed, we know our customers and our market very well. I will say that all the engine producers have heard about AV&R and what they see from us is the innovation that we bring to their plants. We have research and development partnerships established with all the major OEMs. We have established relationships with our customers through press releases and word of mouth. We started to do marketing only three years ago but we have long-term partnerships established with most of the OEMs. These R&D partnerships give us the opportunity to develop our solutions based on their future needs and it also maintains us in front of all the competition. We've never had to attend an exhibition. We prefer to have very closed discussions with our customers, we know them very well and invite them to visit us in Montreal.
KK: For over 15 years, AV&R have provided automated systems to the OEM gas turbine manufacturers. How have the specifications for automated systems changed over this period of time and has this affected your delivery of services to this industry sector?
JFD: The changes in specifications help us a lot; we offer value-added solutions so it's not standard automation for repetitive tasks. A couple of years ago, the payback was based on the headcount reduction. Now, if you want to reach the new specification related to the new programmed engine, you need to automate with intelligent systems and the systems will take decisions like human beings - that's the heart of our solutions.
KK: What are the main needs of the aerospace and energy industries and how do you address these needs with your solutions?
JFD: Right now, the quality controls are executed by human operators and inspectors. The industry needs a known subjectivity and this is what we provide with our Automated Visual Inspection solutions.
As for Robotic Finishing, tight tolerances need to be achieved and manual finishing simply cannot do it. AV&R’s automated adaptive systems reach these tolerances.
KK: Can you discuss some examples of projects in both Robotic Finishing and Automated Visual Inspection and whether this has led to the development of new solutions for the core industries that you serve?
JFD: When we established our strategy plans, the short term goal was to create automatic rework systems. Our goal is to do automatic rework of the parts. This means that we want to inspect and repair automatically the defective parts without human intervention. To achieve this, we first need to find the defects on the parts by using the first version of our inspection systems using 2D cameras. We realised that it was impossible to establish a reparation scheme for the robot only with this information since we needed to know the dimension and depth of the defect. So we had to implement a 3D scanner in our 2D surface inspection systems. It was not planned in the beginning to have this implementation so we looked around the world for a solution and finally established a partnership with the National Research Centre in Canada. We have signed an agreement with them to do a technology transfer for their 3D scanner and now we are in a position to offer the complete solution, we are ready to do rework: our 2D system finds defects, the 3D scanner characterizes them so the robot can know what amount of material to remove to correct the defect (according to its depth).
In Robotic Finishing, many modifications to the teaching of the robot were necessary and done; the robot needs to be able to calculate its own path and its own reparation recipe without the intervention of a human.
KK: Considering that you serve some of the world’s largest motorists and manufacturers of gas turbine parts such as Pratt & Whitney, GE Aviation, GE Energy, MTU Aero Engines, surely this must come with challenges. Can you discuss some of these challenges and how AV&R have overcome these hurdles?
JFD: We are dealing with some big clients in the industry so I will say that the biggest challenge is at the internal side around the intellectual propriety. When a small company deals with a big one, the big one (our client) wants to own everything from research to development, so there is a lot of work to establish our background identification. With new R&D projects, we clearly define what we have developed previously and after that it is easier for us to reflect on what the company owns and what AV&R owns.
Initially, clients were not very receptive to this, but when they realise that we are the only company who delivers that type of solution, we see an opening and considering that we are dealing with all of the big clients in the industry, they realise that everybody contributes to the technology. We re-invest in the technology and in the end everyone invests in the same technology.
KK: What kind of products in the Aerospace and energy industries do you work on?
JFD: Most are critical rotating parts: blades, fan blades, vanes, blisks / IBRs. It is easy to understand that these parts (used in jet engines) need to be manufactured with precision and inspected for defects to ensure the engine’s proper running. Finishing on these parts needs to be done and that is where we offer Robotic Finishing systems. Final visual inspection for these critical parts is very important too and that is where our inspection solutions are used.
KK: The aerospace industry is such a powerful industry and is likely to continue to develop game changing technology. A recent report by Deloitte states that the commercial aircraft sector will see an increase in demand for leisure and business travel in the Asia Pacific region; whereas the defence market is expected to experience a reduction in demands as a reflection of a fall in military spending. How will or has this change affected AV&R in terms of the services it offers?
JFD: We are not dealing with the military industry so, for us, to see that the commercial market will increase is good news. When we develop our systems here in Montreal, we're not receiving military parts. It's very complex when dealing with these, so most of our projects have been based on commercial parts.
As for the Asian region, the fact that more planes will land there does not affect us, unless it means more planes; more planes means more engines, so more of our systems are needed. Wherever the planes go, its engine needs to be manufactured and inspected. Nevertheless, we have right now an agent who is working for us and doing support for us in Asia. The culture and language is quite a challenge for us, though we have planned to open an office in this area somewhere in 2015 to help our services grow in the MRO industry since Asia works more with locals. MRO in Asia is a huge market for us.
KK: The energy sector is constantly under change and transformation to shape the way we use energy. How has AV&R helped energy industry players look for ways to strengthen their enterprise in increasing the performance of this industry?
JFD: The energy sector uses the gas turbines at the maximum limit. In aircraft, the turbine works at the maximum when you land and when you take off, but in the energy industry, the turbines are always at the maximum.
AV&R provides a solution to allow them to be more repeatable and more precise in the manufacturing process which help them reduce workers’ injuries and get the critical rotating parts closer to their physical limits; the more the part is close to its original design, the more it is effective. If the parts can be used longer in the engines, it means less downtime and more money.
About Jean-François Dupont
Jean-François Dupont is the owner and COO of AV&R Robotics.
AV&R Vision & Robotics has been a leader in industrial automation for 15 years. It offers intelligent automation solutions designed to optimize manufacturing processes and to control quality.
Specializing in machine vision, robotics, and mechanical, electrical and controls design, as well as project management, AV&R Vision & Robotics has completed more than 450 projects to date.