MRO Magazine

Next version of Canadarm to carry own tools for maintenance work on Space Station

Old technology will take on a extended life as a new device is developed to give the Canadarm robotic arm the senses of touch and sight to aid in maintenance and repair work in space.Twenty years ago,...

December 1, 2001 | By MRO Magazine

Old technology will take on a extended life as a new device is developed to give the Canadarm robotic arm the senses of touch and sight to aid in maintenance and repair work in space.

Twenty years ago, the world-famous Canadarm was first launched on-board the space shuttle Columbia. This pioneering technology, which was developed by MD Robotics, established Canada as a world leader in space robotics. The company is a subsidiary of MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates of Brampton, Ont.

The Canadarm has become recognized as an icon of Canadian innovation and technology and a key element in the installation and maintenance of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. It has proven most valuable in the retrieval of satellites and is an essential component in the assembly and future maintenance of the International Space Station.

Since its inaugural flight on STS-2 in 1981, the Canadarm technology has evolved and a new generation robotic arm has emerged — Canadarm2. Earlier in 2001, Canadarm2 was launched on STS-100. Both Canadarm and Canadarm2 will be vital to the assembly and maintenance of the Space Station.


Mag Iskander, vice-president and general manager of MD Robotics, said the company is in the final stages of completing a revolutionary new robotic system, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator or SPDM. The SPDM, to be launched in 2003/2004, is a 3-1/2 metre tall, dual-armed robot designed to perform delicate maintenance and servicing tasks on the Space Station. The SPDM even comes equipped with its own tool belt.

The SPDM is a complicated “hand” that will go on the end of the Canadarm2. It has sensors that will let astronauts “feel” what it is touching. It also has lights, a video camera and four tool holders. Using the hand for installations and repairs means astronauts won’t have to spend as much time “outdoors” on dangerous space walks.


The first web-enabled knowledge-management system for aircraft fault resolution is now under development, thanks to a $3.2-million repayable Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC) investment with CaseBank Technologies Inc. of Brampton, Ont. The project is expected to create or maintain 243 jobs.

“With this investment, TPC is enhancing the successful niche role Canada has built in aircraft maintenance and diagnostics,” said Gurbax Malhi, Member of Parliament for Bramalea-Gore-Malton-Springdale, speaking on behalf of industry minister Brian Tobin. “This is important since our aerospace industry plays a key role in providing innovative solutions that benefit Canadians as we move forward in the knowledge economy.”

CaseBank Technologies is a developer of case-based reasoning aircraft and engine diagnostic software solutions. It will develop a system that allows aircraft maintenance technicians to have online access to maintenance solutions that were previously kept in aircraft maintenance logs.

At the heart of CaseBank’s system is a software product — Spotlight — that stores and delivers relevant lessons learned. Through interactive querying, the program actively leads the user to the best available information to assist with diagnostic decision making.

TPC’s investment will allow CaseBank to undertake the research and development necessary to enhance Spotlight and transform the system from one that works on a single type of aircraft to one that draws upon experience from many different types of aircraft.

Approximately 20% of aircraft faults are not solved by traditional diagnostic procedures. Using a case-based reasoning approach to fault isolation will assist technicians by significantly reducing the time and costs required to troubleshoot a problem.

In addition, it will also increase the probability that the fault analysis will be correct the first time, eliminating time and costs associated with testing and retesting. Case-based reasoning makes specialist know-how available to novices and builds a corporate memory by sharing individual experience. By making it web-enabled, the technology allows for immediate updating, access from remote locations, and ease of use.

CaseBank expects to create or maintain 90 jobs in the research and development phase of the project and 153 in the benefits phase — for a total of 243 jobs. The company currently employs 25 people.


Ten electrical motor manufacturers and an energy efficiency consulting company recently joined the list of sponsors for the Motor Decisions Matter (MDM) campaign.

Launched in June 2001, the Boston, Ma., based campaign encourages the use of sound motor management and planning as a tool for cutting motor energy costs. The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), a U.S. non-profit energy organization, is coordinating this effort.

The following motor manufacturers have become Motor Decisions Matter sponsors:

A.O. Smith Electrical Products Co.

Emerson Motors

GE Industrial Systems

Leeson Electric

Lincoln Motors

Marathon Electric

Rockwell Automation/Reliance Electric

Siemens Energy & Automation


WEG Electric.

They are all members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), a founding sponsor of MDM. A total of 11 motor manufacturers, including Baldor, now support MDM.

Advanced Energy, based in Raleigh, N.C., has also become a sponsor. Advanced Energy is a non-profit corporation that helps utility, industrial and residential customers improve the return on their energy investment. The organization focuses on industrial process technologies, motors and drives testing, and applied building science.

Campaign sponsors include motor manufacturers and service centres, trade associations, electric utilities and government agencies. Sponsors promote the benefits of motor planning and provide tools that enable commercial and industrial customers to develop a motor plan, with the assistance of their local distributor/repair centre or utility representative.

Also, the Motor Decisions Matter website ( has been expanded and now includes an in-depth motor planning kit. This kit contains information, statistics, helpful links and tools specially designed to assist companies in developing motor management plans and save on energy costs.

A motor plan addresses common motor decisions before equipment failure; this helps ensure motor availability, reduce downtime and lower energy costs. Best-practice motor management can also help to increase the reliability and quality of motor-driven processes and reduce plant operating costs.

Experts claim that greater attention to motor system management can reduce motor energy costs by as much as 18%, while helping to boost motor productivity and reliability. Energy represents more than 97% of total motor operating costs.


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