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Spraying on a Longer Engine Life

Friday, April 4, 2014

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Scientists in Sweden are working on a new nanoparticle-based coating that can protect an aircraft's engine far longer than current methods.

Researchers at University West in are using nanoparticles in the heat-insulating surface layer that protects aircraft engines. According to researchers, it has also tripled the coating's service life.

The group's goal is to be able to control the structure of the surface layer in order to increase service life and insulating capability. They hope the new layer can be used in both aircraft engines and gas turbines within two years.

University West
University West / Stefan Björklund

Researchers are working on a nanoparticle-based coating that could increase the service life of aircraft engines and reduce fuel consumption.

The researchers are collaborating with aircraft engine manufacturer GKN Aerospace (formerly Volvo Aero) and Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery, which makes gas turbines.

Adjusting to Change

The service life of the engines is increase by spraying a heat-insulating surface layer on top of its metal components, shielding the engine from heat. The temperature can also be raised, which leads to increased efficiency, reduced emissions and decreased fuel consumption.

The researchers say they have been using different materials in their work.

"The base is a ceramic powder, but we have also tested adding plastic to generate pores that make the material more elastic," says Nicholas Curry, who presented his doctoral thesis on the subject.

Changes in temperature make the material expand and contract, subjecting the ceramic layer to stress and necessitating an elasticity to the layer. Researchers have spent the last few years focusing on refining the microstructure so that the layer will be of interest for the industry to use.

"We have tested the use of a layer that is formed from nanoparticles. The particles are so fine that we aren't able to spray the powder directly onto a surface. Instead, we first mix the powder with a liquid that is then sprayed. This is called suspension plasma spray application," Curry explains.

Tested 'Thousands of Times'

The new layer has been tested thousands of times using "thermal shock tests," Curry says. These tests simulate the temperature changes in an aircraft engine.

aircraft engine coatings
GKN Aerospace

The researchers hope to use the coatings on aircraft engines and gas turbines within the next two years.

What the researchers have discovered is that the new coating layer lasts at least three times as long as a conventional layer and also has low heat conduction abilities.

"An aircraft motor that lasts longer does not need to undergo expensive, time-consuming 'service' as often; this saves the aircraft industry money," Curry says. "The new technology is also significantly cheaper than the conventional technology, which means that more businesses will be able to purchase the equipment."

According to the researchers, one of the most important issues they face is how to monitor what happens to the structure of the coating over time and understand how the microstructure in the layer works.

"A conventional surface layer looks like a sandwich, with layer upon layer. The surface layer we produce with the new method can be compared more to standing columns. This makes the layer more flexible and easier to monitor. And it adheres to the metal, regardless of whether the surface is completely smooth or not. The most important thing is not the material itself, but how porous it is," Curry says.


Tagged categories: Aerospace; Ceramic coatings; Heat-resistive coatings; Nano and hybrid coatings; Nanotechnology; Research; Wind Towers

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