Many research programmes have been derailed by the pandemic which has closed research laboratories or restricted groups of researchers from working together to solve complex problems. Some research teams have used their problem-solving skills to find new ways of collaborating and to continue to make progress. In the DIMES project we have developed an innovative system for detecting and monitoring the propagation of damage in aircraft structures, and prior to the pandemic, we were planning to demonstrate it on a full-scale test of an aircraft fuselage section at Airbus in Toulouse. However, the closure of our laboratories and travel restrictions across Europe have made it impossible for members of our team based in Liverpool, Chesterfield, Ulm and Zurich to meet or travel to Toulouse to set-up the demonstration. Instead we have used hours of screen-time in meetings to complete our design work and plan the installation of the system in Toulouse. These meetings often involve holding components up to our laptop cameras to show one another what we are doing. The components of the system were manufactured in various locations before being shipped to Empa in Zurich where they were assembled and the complete system was then shipped to Toulouse. At the same time, we designed a communication system that included a headset with camera, microphone and earpieces so that our colleague in Toulouse could be guided through the installation of our system by engineers in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Amazingly, it all worked and we were half-way through the installation last month when a rise in the COVID infection rate caused a shutdown of the Airbus site in Toulouse. What we need now is remote-controlled robot to complete the installation for us regardless of COVID restrictions; however, I suspect the project budget cannot afford a robot sufficiently sophisticated to replace our Most Valued Player (MVP) in Toulouse.
The DIMES project has received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 820951. The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect only the author’s view and the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
Image: Our Most Valued Player (inset) installing a point sensor in the front section of a fuselage at Airbus in Toulouse under the remote direction of engineers in Switzerland and the UK.