Release Date
August 23rd, 2023
Open Date
September 20th, 2023
Due Date(s)
October 18th, 2023
Close Date
October 18th, 2023
Topic No.


Robotic Defastening


Department of DefenseN/A


Type: SBIRPhase: BOTHYear: 2023


The Department of Defense (DoD) is seeking proposals for the topic of "Robotic Defastening" as part of the SBIR 23.3 BAA. The Air Force branch is specifically interested in this technology. The objective is to develop an AI-assisted defastening robot that can improve process time and quality. Currently, the defastening process is conducted manually by production personnel using hand drills, resulting in long hours and potential fatigue. The proposed technology aims to automate this process, reducing personnel fatigue, improving quality, and reducing process time. The Phase I requirements include demonstrating an understanding of fastener removal on aircraft and showing feasibility of defastening with a 50% or more time reduction compared to the manual process while maintaining 95% accuracy. In Phase II, a mobile prototype capable of reducing flow days on various aircraft with different types of fasteners should be developed, along with an integration path for implementation across Maintenance Depots. In Phase III, the goal is to integrate multiple mobile defastening robots into the PDM process, potentially across different aircraft, to prove efficiency and accuracy improvements. The technology is restricted under ITAR or EAR regulations. Relevant keywords include robotic defastening, manual drill rivets, automated repair, and E-Drill. The solicitation is closed, and more information can be found on the DoD SBIR website.


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Integrated Sensing and Cyber;Human-Machine Interfaces;Trusted AI and Autonomy


The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.


OBJECTIVE: Develop AI assisted defastening robot to improve process time and quality.


DESCRIPTION: Various Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) processes require removal of fasteners on the aircraft to access behind aircraft skins. The defastening process is currently conducted across all aircraft at Tinker AFB (E-3, E-6, B-52, KC-135, KC-46, and B-1B) by production personnel with hand drills. This amounts to hundreds of thousands of hours spent removing fasteners annually. With the B-1B FIF workload coming to Tinker AFB in FY25, over 10,000 fasteners will need to be removed from each jet.   The defastening process is tedious and even the most skilled artisans are subject to fatigue, resulting in reduced quality over long periods of time, as well as increased risk of injury to personnel. Manual drilling is difficult and produces shavings and debris that prove challenging to collect, and drill bits tend to break quickly requiring frequent replacement. As the B-1B workload approaches, there is a concern that removing aircraft skins will become overwhelming to the production line and better methods need to be implemented before the workload arrives.   Automating the defastening process will significantly improve personnel quality of life, reduce process time, and drive down risk of rework. Robotics have been implemented in industry to assist the defastening process, but no directly on an aircraft. Other technology, such as E-Drill, has proven successful in improving quality and speed, but still requires artisans to easily access the skins with heavy equipment. 76 AMXG is unique in that the aircraft requirements for this technology is much larger than other ALC’s, requiring stricter parameters for space/motion.


PHASE I: To meet Phase 1 requirements, proposers should be able to demonstrate an understanding of requirements of fastener removal on aircraft and show feasibility of defastening on aircraft with 50% or more time reduction compaired to manual process and maintain 95% accuracy.  Proposer should include a detailed plan for demonstrating this capability on military aircraft.


PHASE II: Provide mobile prototype capable of accomplishing Phase I requirements demonstrating ability to reduce flow days on various aircraft with various types of fasteners. Develop integration path to implementation across Maintenance Depots.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Integrate multiple mobile defastening robots into the PDM process, possibly across different aircraft, with data to prove efficiency/accuracy improvements.




KEYWORDS: Robotic Defastening, Defastener, De-fastener, manual drill rivets, manual riveting, match drill, replacement skin, automated repair, structural repair, skin repair, fastening system, mobile robotic drilling, electrostatic discharge machining, E-Drill