Robotic path planning for non-destructive testing - a custom MATLAB toolbox approach

Carmelo Mineo, Stephen Gareth Pierce, Pascual Ian Nicholson, Ian Cooper

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89 Citations (Scopus)
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The requirement to increase inspection speeds for non-destructive testing (NDT) of composite aerospace parts is common to many manufacturers. The prevalence of complex curved surfaces in the industry provides motivation for the use of 6 axis robots in these inspections. The purpose of this paper is to present work undertaken for the development of a KUKA robot manipulator based automated NDT system. A new software solution is presented that enables flexible trajectory planning to be accomplished for the inspection of complex curved surfaces often encountered in engineering production. The techniques and issues associated with conventional manual inspection techniques and automated systems for the inspection of large complex surfaces were reviewed. This approach has directly influenced the development of a MATLAB toolbox targeted to NDT automation, capable of complex path planning, obstacle avoidance, and external synchronization between robots and associated external NDT systems. This paper highlights the advantages of this software over conventional off-line-programming approaches when applied to NDT measurements. An experimental validation of path trajectory generation, on a large and curved composite aerofoil component, is presented. Comparative metrology experiments were undertaken to evaluate the real path accuracy of the toolbox when inspecting a curved 0.5 m2 and a 1.6 m2 surface using a KUKA KR16 L6-2 robot. The results have shown that the deviation of the distance between the commanded TCPs and the feedback positions were within 2.7 mm. The variance of the standoff between the probe and the scanned surfaces was smaller than the variance obtainable via commercial path-planning software. Tool paths were generated directly on the triangular mesh imported from the CAD models of the inspected components without need for an approximating analytical surface.
By implementing full external control of the robotic hardware, it has been possible to synchronise the NDT data collection with positions at all points along the path, and our approach allows for the future development of additional functionality that is specific to NDT inspection problems. For the current NDT application, the deviations from CAD design and the requirements for both coarse and fine inspections, dependent on measured NDT data, demand flexibility in path planning beyond what is currently available from existing off-line robot programming software.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalRobotics and Computer Integrated Manufacturing
Early online date2 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2016


  • robotics
  • path-planning
  • automated non-destructive inspections


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