Air Force Academy Cadets Take Top Prize at Corrosion Detection Competition

Members of the Air Force Academy capstone design team prepare to deploy their iRobot PackBot during the inaugural University Student Design and Applied Solutions Competition demonstration phase, focused on corrosion detection.

Members of the Air Force Academy capstone design team prepare to deploy their iRobot PackBot during the inaugural University Student Design and Applied Solutions Competition demonstration phase, focused on corrosion detection.

By Cynthia Greenwood

Six cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy won first prize at a corrosion-detection design competition held April 18-19 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, sponsored by NACE International and funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office.

NACE International’s inaugural University Student Design and Applied Solutions Competition challenged bachelor’s- and master’s-level students to create an autonomous system to detect corrosion and coating defects in difficult-to-reach areas of a fabricated structure.

USAFA’s winning design included an iRobot PackBot (“Mother Ship”) capable of maneuvering a smaller team-built InspectorBot into a tight space where the latter could use a robotic arm equipped with sensors. “After maneuvering the InspectorBot into the structure using the Mother Ship, we used a camera along with lighting, lasers, a distance-measuring device, and a humidity sensor to document corrosion in the floor and sides of the test structure,” said Cadet 1st Class Casey Keilbarth, a senior-level mechanical engineering major.  “During our demonstration, everything worked smoothly except for a signal interference issue we had with the robotic arm on the InspectorBot.”

Five university teams rose to the challenge of developing a system for corrosion inspection in difficult-to-access areas.  Each team had to devise a system that would autonomously inspect and document inaccessible areas of a steel and aluminum structure, while also communicating information to an operator. On day one, the five teams presented an overview of their system designs before three judges. On the second day the teams were challenged to test their corrosion detection systems within a hitherto unseen structure riddled with various types of corrosion and defects.  Besides the three winning teams, students from Texas A & M University and The University of Akron also participated.

The Air Force Academy’s winning engineering design included an iRobot PackBot (“Mother Ship”) capable of maneuvering a smaller InspectorBot into a tight space for detecting corrosion.

The Air Force Academy’s winning engineering design included an iRobot PackBot (“Mother Ship”) capable of maneuvering a smaller InspectorBot into a tight space for detecting corrosion.

A seven-person team from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point took second place for their design and maneuvering of a wheeled, tracked corrosion-inspection rover with a retractable arm. The team offered a solid performance during the demonstration phase, and experienced a few challenges. “Before the demonstration our camera died, so we outfitted an iPhone on the rover to do a video feed,” said Pascal Brun, First Class Cadet majoring in Engineering Management. “With this work-around we sacrificed wall climbing capability for the ability to see what the rover might detect inside the structure.”

A five-person team from Alfred University placed third for their manipulation of a four-rotor quadcopter equipped with cameras and sensors.  “After looking at many possible multi-rotor remotely operated vehicle (ROV) technologies, we designed a quadcopter ROV that could fit comfortably in the test environment and have all additional sensors required to support our visual corrosion detection process,” said Max Wilson, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. “The design of the ducts was initially shaped to increase static thrust production, which theoretically increased flight time at low translational speeds. However, the motors themselves weren’t performing as advertised, so this design had to be scrapped for a more generic, protective duct shape. Our major challenge was trying to control the ROV in a confined space, because once you’re in a confined space, the air flow and turbulence are amplified significantly, conditions that typically make an ROV inoperable,” Wilson explained.

Texas A & M University sent a six-person team to demonstrate a sophisticated robotic system equipped with corrosion-monitoring equipment consisting of a wireless camera, electrochemical probe, potentiostat, ultrasound probe, and computer tablet. The University of Akron (UA) was represented by four students from the Corrosion Squad. The team demonstrated a corrosion-monitoring device designed to detect and measure corrosion depth based on the Eddy current method, while also evaluating coating degradation using the electrochemical impedance technique.

During the final demonstration, members of the West Point team make adjustments to enhance the capability of their corrosion inspection rover, equipped with a retractable arm.

During the final demonstration, members of the West Point team make adjustments to enhance the capability of their corrosion inspection rover, equipped with a retractable arm.

“We hope that by participating in this competition, students gained a strong understanding of how their solutions to this challenge may translate directly to solving real-world problems,” said Dan Dunmire, director of the DoD Corrosion Office. “The DoD is one of many sectors that will benefit from new and unique perspectives brought by university teams.”

The University Student Design and Applied Solutions Competition has grown out of a strategic partnership between the DoD Corrosion Office and NACE International. In developing the event, both partners sought to solve problems faced by all military departments, which involve material degradation that can affect the readiness of weapon systems and facilities.

“In the years to come, we expect this competition to be transformative for all industries affected by corrosion,” said Bob Chalker, CEO of NACE International.  “No one has approached solutions to corrosion control in this way before, and we are already seeing inspiring new perspectives from the students in this year’s competition.”

“Because universities are now the principal source of scientific advancement that leads to new technology, DoD increasingly supports science and technology research within university engineering departments to solve specific challenges in the field,” said Dunmire.  “DoD benefits greatly from programs that challenge aspiring corrosion scientists and researchers to develop engineering and management skills before they earn undergraduate and graduate degrees.”

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