Drivers Beware, Bolts With Brushes

It took me three years to renovate my apartment, the next time I think about repainting the living room I might call a robot instead of my trusted GC Shally.  Earlier this week it was reported that the city of Sydney is looking at automated painting its famed Harbor Bridge.

For the first time in history since its construction in 1924, the bridge is being stripped down to its bare metal and being completely repainted.  This job is not only laborious but extremely dangerous, therefore workers are enlisting the help of some high-tech robots. Two automated machines are using high-pressure blasters to wipe layers of old paint off the Sydney landmark.

The innovation and commercial design was created at the University of Technology Sydney by its manager Martin Lloyd, who says the robots will save human workers from having to tackle some of the most dangerous jobs involved in maintaining the bridge. “It’s certainly not for the faint hearted. You’re working in often very cluttered and confined spaces. And as soon as you start blasting there’s a lot of dust and debris.” Mr Lloyd, said.  In addition, asbestos and lead from the old paint are just some of the challenges robot developers had to address.

The automated blasters allow maintenance workers to set up the machines in a contained area, before pushing a button to let them work. The blasters are powerful enough to cut through clothing and skin. But scientists say it’s still a safer way to cleaning the beloved “coat hanger”.

As example of the dangers involved, when the Sydney Harbor Bridge was constructed 16 people died – many by falling into the water below.  Australians spend $200 million each year on bridge maintenance. Experts say it the use of robots won’t just be safer for workers, it will also be more cost effective for the country. UTS has signed a deal to commercialize the robot design in a bid to crack the international market for cleaning major structures. Mr Lloyd says there are more than 400,000 steel bridges in the United States and Europe alone. “That’s enough to keep us busy. But abrasive blasting is used in manufacturing. It’s used in the marine industry for fabricating and repair of ships. It’s used across the board in lots of different industries. So, it’s a great opportunity.”

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