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The Royal Australian Air Force, Konica Minolta, and a robot called SARAH

21 Aug 2020

The Royal Australian Air Force’s number 36 Squadron is on a mission to understand more about how the movement of aircraft parts can be automated.

The 36 Squadron (36 SQN) has selected Konica Minolta and MiR to help with the project, which will involve a supply assistant robot called SARAH in the form of Konica Minolta’s MiR200 mobile robot. 

The project is the first phase of an innovation program that aims to automate aircraft part movement as they go from logistics to technicians.

“36 SQN was interested in exploring whether there were ways to simplify or automate this task to free up the team’s time for higher value tasks and let a robot do the mindless manual handling tasks,” explains RAAF Amberley Squadron leader Evan Smith.

The RAAF has a technology strategy called Plan Jericho, which helps to transform the airforce through the use of upcoming high technology systems.

36 SQN’s proposal laid out the vision for automated delivery of parts and equipment, phasing it from the simplest part of the problem to the end-state complete vision. As a result, Plan Jericho funded two thirds of phase one.

The squadron then turned to Konica Minolta’s SARAH MiR as a solution.

“The 36 SQN was looking for innovative ways to be safer and more efficient. MiR introduces efficiencies by automating a simple part of the supply chain to free up people to do what only people can do,” comments Konica Minolta’s national manager of robotics and innovation, Martin Keetels.

Konica Minolta spent time with the squadron to configure and customise the user interface to their requirements. 

The robot features a customised dashboard and a digital button that enables it to autonomously transports goods across the facility. It can carry up to 150kgs at a time and staff can call the robot to return the materials using their own smartphones, laptops or tablets via the intuitive web-based platform.

According to Konica Minolta, SARAH now travels 850 metres a day on average, fulfilling 20 missions. SARAH is also reducing the risk of injury from lifting and pushing heavy parts.

Konica Minolta Australia managing director David Cooke says, “Konica Minolta has enjoyed an exceptional relationship with Defence over many years. From this we know that RAAF has a strong culture of innovation and transformation. Konica Minolta is proud to offer this solution to the 36 SQN, which is delivering tangible, measurable benefits.”

SARAH has also helped with social distancing during COVID-19 by limiting the number of interactions between logistics and technicians.

Konica Minolta Australia has key partnerships that extend its offering into future products such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML); robotics; robotic process automation (RPA); data analytics; and 3D.