Thursday, March 23, 2017
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New Robot Helps NASA Build Lighter, Stronger Parts

Brian Stewart, system's integration manager at NASA, poses with ISAAC's rotating head. Photo courtesy of NASA/David C. Bowman.
Brian Stewart, system’s integration manager at NASA, poses with ISAAC’s rotating head.
Photo courtesy of NASA/David C. Bowman.

A new robot at NASA will help the space agency develop stronger, lighter materials for aerospace vehicles. The multi-million dollar robot, called the Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites (ISAAC), is one of only three worldwide.

“It changes how we look at composites,” saysBrian Stewart, integration manager for the ISAAC project. “We can convert research ideas into real projects pretty quickly.”

The robot is housed at NASA’s Langley Research Center, a place that Stewart says has long been adept at concept development, analysis, and simulation. Now Langley will be able to build its own structures quickly, too.

ISAAC can create durable materials by fuse ribbons of carbon fiber and epoxy into sheets of material. Photo courtesy of  NASA/David C. Bowman.
ISAAC can create durable materials by fuse ribbons of carbon fiber and epoxy into sheets of material.
Photo courtesy of
NASA/David C. Bowman.

Built by Electroimpact Inc. of Mukilteo, WA, ISAAC is an adapted KUKA robot. One of ISAAC’s key features is a large, rotating head that can be loaded with up to 16 spools of carbon-fiber ribbon. The head can also be detached and replaced with others loaded with different tools.

“We can use these interchangeable heads for all sorts of amazing things — almost anything we can dream up,” Stewart says.

Carbon fibers are used in Beoing 787s. Robots like ISAAC should make it easy to develop novel ways to use the material.

The ribbons used on the machine are created by combining carbon fibers with partially cured epoxy resin. The ribbons can be be fused together in sheets to create precise patterns, and the sheets can then be layered and cured into a single durable mass.

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