SIA Engineering seeks new ways to automate

SIA Engineering's latest innovations.
Above: Robotic crawlers that can be customised offer an innovative way for aircraft engineers to detect problems in confined spaces. Left: Last month, SIAEC deployed an air caster - a pneumatic lifting device which uses a thin layer of air as a way t
Last month, SIAEC deployed an air caster - a pneumatic lifting device which uses a thin layer of air as a way to float heavy objects a small distance off the ground. The device has made it easier for staff to move heavy loads, such as aircraft parts, of up to eight tonnes, and also reduced the need for other equipment such as forklifts and tow tractors.PHOTOS: SIA ENGINEERING

Some ideas already deployed with good results, as firm aims to boost efficiency and staff welfare

From snake-like crawlers that can detect defects in confined spaces, to follow-me robots that can carry heavy loads, SIA Engineering (SIAEC) is looking for new ways to use technology to speed up work and take better care of its workers.

Some ideas have already been deployed on the ground with good results, the firm said.

In May, SIAEC introduced a wirelessly controlled aircraft pushback air tug which allows just one worker, instead of two, to handle a single-aisle plane.

An air tug is a low-profile vehicle used by the ground crew to push an aircraft backwards, for instance, from a gate.

Since last month, the company has also deployed an air caster - a pneumatic lifting device which uses a thin layer of air as a way to float heavy objects a small distance off the ground.

The device has made it easier for staff to move heavy loads, such as aircraft parts, of up to eight tonnes, and also reduced the need for other equipment such as forklifts and tow tractors.

The move towards automation, including 3D printing of aircraft spare parts, is part of a $50 million initiative announced last year to push for innovation in aerospace maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO).

 Last month, SIAEC deployed an air caster - a pneumatic lifting device which uses a thin layer of air as a way t
Last month, SIAEC deployed an air caster – a pneumatic lifting device which uses a thin layer of air as a way to float heavy objects a small distance off the ground. The device has made it easier for staff to move heavy loads, such as aircraft parts, of up to eight tonnes, and also reduced the need for other equipment such as forklifts and tow tractors. PHOTOS: SIA ENGINEERING

Other ideas being considered include cooling vests for ground staff working in hot and humid environments, as well as follow-me robots and robotic crawlers.

It is imperative for SIAEC to advance innovation and adopt new technologies to stay ahead of the competition and better serve the needs of its airline customers, said the company's senior vice-president for innovation and technology, Mr Foo Kean Shuh.

 Last month, SIAEC deployed an air caster - a pneumatic lifting device which uses a thin layer of air as a way t
Robotic crawlers that can be customised offer an innovative way for aircraft engineers to detect problems in confined spaces.

Workers like senior foreman Tan Kee Rong also benefit. He said: "It used to take two to three hours to manually map the area on the aircraft surface prior to dent repair. With the 3D scanner, I can complete the same work in 15 minutes... and proceed with the repair thereafter."

There is huge potential for automation in the aircraft repair and maintenance business, as well as other industries, experts say.

One forecast estimates that the global MRO market for automation solutions for the aviation industry will grow by almost 13 per cent a year until 2020.

The need to optimise operations and produce high-quality products within the shortest possible time, as well as a manpower shortage that has hit many countries, including Singapore, has contributed to the push for automation, experts say.

In 2014, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore threw a challenge to the industry and academia, to find innovative solutions to automate labour-intensive processes in airport operations.

Teams were selected, under two aviation challenges, to develop prototypes that can transform the manpower-intensive ways of handling baggage and cargo. The initiative was supported with about $17 million in government funding.

The aim of the contest - which is ongoing - is to use robotics, autonomous vehicles, exoskeletons and state-of-the-art algorithms in ground operations.

Changi Airport Group is also working with airlines and ground handlers to move more travellers from assisted to self-handling, from check-in to aircraft boarding.

When Terminal 4 opens later this year, it will be the first to offer a full suite of start-to-end automated processes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'SIA Engineering seeks new ways to automate'. Print Edition | Subscribe