Abrasive blasting is in regular use across many industry sectors for the removal of rust, scale, paint and other surface preparation processes. Abrasive blasting entails accelerating a grit of sand sized particles with compressed air or water through a blasting nozzle to provide a stream of high velocity particles used to clean metal objects such as steel structures or provide a texture to poured concrete. Due to the dust generated by abrasive blasting, this process is required to be performed in a fully enclosed area such as commercially built blast rooms, blasting yards, or on-site (such as bridges or buildings) in a temporary enclosed area.
Abrasive blasting can be extremely labour intensive and hazardous; workers have to spend long periods of time handling forces exceeding 150N (~15kg), and often have to position themselves into difficult poses and positions in order to blast hard to reach areas. Because of the muscle fatigue it is common for grit blasters to need to rest every 10 or 15 minutes before resuming blasting.
Dry blasting creates a great deal of dust and particulates that can contain hazardous chemicals from the materials being removed, including lead-based paints; for this reason grit blasters are required to wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) whilst in the work environment.
As a result of these significant risks, Occupational Health & Safety measures represent significant, yet essential costs, and can have a direct affect on the overall productivity of the surface preparation process.
A common application of abrasive blasting is in the maintenance and rehabilitation of steel bridges and other large steel structures. Workers are forced to work in complex, enclosed spaces for long periods of time, whilst wearing full personal protective equipment.
Since 2006, researchers from the Centre for Autonomous Systems at the University of Technology, Sydney and the Roads and Maritime Services NSW (RMS) have been collaborating on the research and development of an autonomous grit-blasting system for steel bridge maintenance and rehabilitation.
RMS are responsible for the ongoing maintenance of more than 500 steel bridges in NSW, and with worker health and safety at the top of their agenda, RMS have taken an active role in finding ways to reduce workers exposure to the hazardous abrasive blasting activity.
The result of all of this cutting edge research and development is the world’s first autonomous grit-blasting robot, capable of operating in complex environments and without prior knowledge of the structure that needs blasting. The project was so successful, that we formed Sabre Autonomous Solutions to develop the technology for the broader abrasive blasting industry in Australia and overseas.Further Bridge Information
We couldn’t have done it without our team!
As a collaborative research project it involved Professors,academics, PHD Candidates, Masters and undergraduate students, professional engineers, blasters & painters.
2006 – Scoping Study
Jointly funded by the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and the Roads and Maritime Services NSW through Partnership grant.
This stage focused on a scoping study, proof of concepts and a prototype platform development to determine whether it was feasible for robots to operate in this highly complex environment.
2007 – Enabling methodology and prototype development
Following the successful Scoping Study, the next stage was jointly funded by RMS, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and UTS between 2007 and 2010 and focused on:
- Safe autonomous exploration/mapping in unknown environments
- Data fusion/large-scale map generation
- Investigating path planning techniques for quality blasting
2008 – Innovations Achieved
With early prototypes constructed, the software and hardware were integrated and tested.
2009 – 1st Trials at Sydney Harbour Bridge
A six week blasting trial at the Sydney Harbour Bridge led to:
- Identification of blasting parameters
- Achieved 90% coverage of test area
- Proved feasibility of autonomous
2010/2012 – Deployable Robot Development
With significant support from both RMS and UTS this stage was to
develop two operational robotic systems for extensive evaluation, testing and long-term use by RMS.
- New ultra light weight customised Schunk Robots
- Significant reduction of scanning times with new template matching algorithms
- Optimised trajectory planning and robot placement
- 2nd generation prototype developed
- Cooperatively designed Operator Control Unit
2013 – Handover to the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Two 3rd generation autonomous blasting systems were built, commissioned and handed over to RMS following successful final trials. The two systems remained in operation until project completion in July 2015.
2013 – SABRE is born
Burwell Technologies, Australia’s leading abrasive blasting manufacturer joined forces with UniQuest to commercialise the technology to service the global abrasive blasting market. The system was presented at international trade shows and developed in partnership with project partners.