The Department of Defense is training a new soldier in its war on corrosion: robots that can remove coatings.
Partnering with the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, DOD is developing a Robotic Automated Coating Removal System (RACRS) that could some day make time-consuming hand stripping of military ships, aircraft and vehicles obsolete.
372 Hours of Stripping
The initial effort involves development of a system to remove paint from the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, first deployed in combat in 2007.
Removing the paint from a single V-22 currently consumes 372 hours of manual labor, allowing throughput of only one aircraft per month, according to DOD.
Robotic coating removal could improve
military readiness by speeding
maintenance, the Defense Department says.
And with Osprey production accelerating, depot workload for the aircraft is expected to increase ten-fold. That increase will require Fleet Readiness Center East (FRC-E) to hire more than 100 new workers just to handle coating removal, DOD reports.
Currently, virtually all major military helicopters and tilt rotors have composite main rotor blades that are hand-sanded or impact-blasted to remove the paint. It can be a delicate job, as the worker must avoid damage to the blade and the wire mesh lightning protector just underneath the outer coatings. Thus, the process requires relatively skillful artisans.
A laser stripping system would help prevent damage and greatly reduce hazardous waste, saving an additional $100,000 per year, DOD says.
Faster, ‘More Robust’
To increase depot throughput (and thus military readiness) of the V-22, DOD is determined to develop and deploy an automated, less labor-intensive system.
“Using the Automated Rotor Blade Stripping System (ARBSS) system as a base, the overall project will first develop and deploy enhanced ARBSS versions that will be more robust, able to achieve faster stripping rates, and can be easily reconfigured to handle a variety of blades and propellers,” according to an NCMS release.
“The project will then extend the technology in scale to design and deploy a RACRS to a V-22 fuselage with reconfigurability to other similarly sized vertical lift vehicles.
“In addition to the primary coating removal via the use of lasers, the project will develop reconfigurable robotic systems that would include automated robotic head path planning, sensing, and control to minimize the use of labor in the coating removal process.”
Public, Private Partners
These DOD facilities are participating in the project:
• U.S. Navy (FRC East)
• U.S. Navy (NUWC Keyport)
• U.S. Army (Corpus Christi)
• U.S. Air Force (WR-ALC)
The project also has industry participation from:
• Koops Inc., of Holland, MI, which designs and builds automated assembly systems and robotic equipment;
• General Lasertronics, of San Jose, CA, maker of laser-based devices used to clean surfaces and remove coatings;
• Pennsylvania State University;
• Battelle Memorial Institute, the Columbus, OH-based nonprofit R&D group;
• Spatial Integrated Systems Inc. (SIS), which develops digital 3D data capture and processing technologies; and
• Automated Precision Inc. (API), of Rockville, MD, a global provider of advanced metrology solutions for industry.
NCMS is a nonprofit, member-based R&D consortium that brings together partners in government and private industry. The DOD project is one of NCMS’s Robotics Initiatives, one of three high-tech research areas the organization is currently pursuing (the others are Digital Manufacturing and High Performance Computing as well as Sustainable Manufacturing).
Together, NCMS says, these efforts will “help define the future of manufacturing in North America.”
Protective coatings are a critical component of the Defense Department’s Corrosion Prevention and Mitigation Program. DOD’s Office of Corrosion Policy and Oversight says corrosion of military equipment costs the military services more than $21 billion a year.
The Government Accountability Office has noted that corrosion affects military readiness by taking critical systems out of action, and has also affected safety, resulting in accidents, injuries and deaths due to the degradation of equipment.