Materials Integrity Engineers of Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) played a vital role in enabling safer and competent eliminate paint from F-16 aircraft through the recently accepted Robotic Laser Coating Removal System.
Paint elimination is a recurrent maintenance procedure for military aircraft and is performed for a distinct of motives, most particularly for inspections and for repainting motives. Usually, it is performed manually, with maintenance team applying a chemical solution, exhibiting media blasting or by meticulously scraping or sanding off the paint. These methods are time-consuming and create a large quantity of potentially hazardous waste material.
It is likewise labor-intensive, demanding teams of maintainers equipped with various kinds of safety gear.
A recently launched new paint removal technique is utilized to move a laser-equipped robotic arm, mapped independently and particularly to every single aircraft, over the vehicle surface, chiefly vaporizing paint layer by layer. A method is entirely contained all waste materials and potentially hazardous chemicals which vacuumed into the tool. A vision system endorses when the striping reaches the required endpoint.
It is entirely a self-facilitated technique which eliminates the outright human element, both in terms of error as well exposure. Despite this, machinists assist the effort from a computer installed in a closed control room.
Jeff Calcaterra, Structural Materials Evaluation Team Leader said, “We provided support at the full spectrum and provided expertise so that they could do the right engineering due diligence.”
He further explained that the process brought with it challenges never before considered in traditional non-thermal paint removal.
As Calcaterra stated, since, the paint is eliminated with a laser, which is averse to mechanical or chemical techniques the AFRL team had to contemplate an entire novel set of elements when advancing test plans and evaluating the structural soundness of test samples.
He explained, “We had three areas that we very concerned with because this is a thermal process: Cadmium embrittlement (the formation of intermetallics on the material), the concern of thermal damage to the material itself, and thirdly, any relaxation of residual stress due to thermal effects.”
“None of this is ever considered in any of the non-thermal processes.”
Calcaterra demonstrated that the laser de-paint technique is much safer, particularly lessening the environmental hazards posed by chromium-based paint products. The exhaustive-automated technique does not demand maintenance team to be in the paint stripping area.
So far as the process contained waste, is automatically discharged to a collection area, requiring very little cleanup by human maintainers. Addition to this, the technique is likewise paced, saving particular working hours and associated costs.
Although not every single surface material is appropriate for laser paint elimination, the system is permitted to utilize with particular sort of aluminum and graphite blends with a service temperature greater than 350 degrees Fahrenheit. These materials contain the exterior molding of the F-16. The system is currently being investigated for a various other materials and air platforms as well, and AFRL will play a sustaining role in these efforts.
The Robotics Laser Coating Removal System has recently been permitted for production F-16s and transition to the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base where it will be incorporated into the regular maintenance toolset for the platform.
This complete investigation is one at the request of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Engineering Division, the research team, part of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, contributed technical expertise in the form of test coupon analysis, test procedure development and execution and many forms of guidance and consultation throughout a seven-year effort that entirely reimagined paint removal for certain kind of metallic aircraft surfaces.