September 03, 2012
Credit: AV&R VISION & ROBOTICS
It is unusual for aerospace workers to take the subway or bicycle to work. But not when your average staff age hovers around 30 and your offices are in the heart of Montreal.
Is this the face of a generation that will define aerospace's cutting edge? What AV&R Vision & Robotics does and how it does it may offer some clues. Formed 17 years ago, the company's identity comes from solving what CEO and President Eric Beauregard calls “automated projects that are unsolvable.” Ninety-five percent of its customers are in aerospace, nearly all in gas turbine engines. The rest are in industrial engines. Medical systems are on the horizon.
AV&R's customer base includes all major engine makers—GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce—and their industrial partners. Traditionally, 25% of its sales were within Canada, another quarter in the U.S. and the rest split between Europe and Asia. But the big Airbus and Boeing single-aisle reengining projects have prompted a shift to 50% in the U.S., with Pratt already ordering for its geared turbofan and GE Aviation doing the same for Leap.
Most of the automation and visual inspection work concerns original equipment manufacturing of rotating parts—blisks, blades and vanes. AV&R also supports overhauls with customers such as Delta TechOps and Chromalloy.
AV&R assembles robotic systems and provides the software to run them. The robotic components themselves come from outside manufacturers.
When Beauregard joined AV&R six years ago, he was surprised at how little automation was in use by aerospace manufacturers. “I expected to see automation everywhere. To me, aerospace is a modern industry, its specifications are so tight,” he says. “But we are still doing things manually.” The point is that machines are more accurate than people.
New, rather than existing programs, are most likely to bring change, because change involves investment and customer and regulatory approvals. New programs offer the prospect of the efficiency breakthroughs that robotics promise.