What if it was possible to weld pipes from the inside? While not necessary for all welding, sometimes there are metal tubes that need repair, and no good way to get to them other than going inside. For tubes that are too small for humans, repairing them means extensive work getting to them from the outside. What if, instead, we could send robots down the tubes, and have them weld with laser?
This snake robot, made by OC Robotics in collaboration with TWI Ltd, was built to see whether such a machine could work. Plenty of snakebots already exist, doing everyything from rescue work to surgery to industrial machining, but tragically few of them use lasers. From OC Robotics:
Modern industrial sites require regular maintenance to replace or repair deteriorated pipes. A result of the challenging environment, confined space and limited external access is that external orbital cutting and welding processes are not viable for many applications and, consequently, in-bore remote processing has generated significant interest in recent years.
The LaserPipe project goal was to develop a compact in-bore laser welding system and investigate the procedures for an all positional laser welding process. The resulting laser welding head was integrated with a snake-arm robot, to demonstrate remote locating of weld joint, alignment of laser, and in-bore laser welding. This concept could also be suitable for in-bore laser cutting.
Here it is using the laser:
Seems to be a success! Watch the LaserPipe snake robot in action below: