For the second time in about a year, a mechanical engineering professor from Tennessee Tech University has presented breakthrough technologies in mobile robotic welding systems to U.S. Navy officials.
The National Shipbuilding Research Program, a collaboration of U.S. shipyards working to reduce the cost of building, operating and repairing ships by improving productivity and quality, invited TTU professor Stephen Canfield to present his latest research at the Washington Navy Yard this fall.
Canfield and other invited presenters were asked to demonstrate their projects in less than two minutes. Of hundreds of research groups that are part of the NSRP, only about a dozen were invited to present.
“To get this top-level review by the Navy speaks to the quality of the research happening at TTU,” said Canfield. “The NSRP has partially funded our research and recognizes the contributions we are making to promote the use of technology in ship design and production.”
Among the officials reviewing the research at the Navy Yard were Allison Stiller, assistant secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition) Ship Programs, Navy program managers and senior Navy officers.
Canfield’s work has resulted in a small, portable, climbing robot that mechanizes the largest expenses in shipbuilding: cutting and welding. Canfield has demonstrated that the mobile robotic systems can triple a welder’s productivity, while making the job safer and more comfortable for the operator.
“In earlier research, we had robots weighing 500 pounds that could carry loads of 50 pounds,” Canfield said. “Now we have robots that weigh 50 pounds that can carry 50 to 100 pounds.”
A skilled technician must operate the robot within view of the work surface. The robots are not designed to reduce jobs, but to give workers better tools to help them be more productive.
Technologies that improve productivity, quality and safety are of interest to the Navy and the shipyards, Canfield said.
“The shipyards choose which technologies they want to use based on these demonstrations,” Canfield said, “so this was a tremendous opportunity to showcase our research at a high level.”
A Cookeville company, Robotic Technologies of Tennessee, recently received a license from TTU’s Research Office to use Canfield’s patents and commercialize the robots. The university patent will be added to RTT’s intellectual property portfolio.