When the Marines were looking for a few good painters, the search took a 21st-century, high-tech turn.
Today, the Corps’ painting program is a state-of-the-art combination of virtual training and leading-edge application technology that has radically improved quality while reducing time, materials and toxic exposures, the military says.
The Corps’ dynamic duo: LaserPaint for training and, for application, the Spray Technique Analysis and Research for Defense (STAR4D) Program.
Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Bricker / USMC
|Mike Jackson, supervisor at Marine Corps Logistics Base (Barstow, CA) Cost Work Center 749, demonstrates the Spray Technique Analysis and Research for Defense (STAR4D) Program.|
Used together, the systems have produced a high-and-tight painting program with substantial savings and environmental and safety benefits, the Marine Corps says.
The Corps’ new training secret is LaserPaint, developed with the University of Northern Iowa and based on UNI’s pioneering VirtualPaint program.
LaserPaint is a simulator that allows painters in training to practice application techniques without the surface preparation, materials, clean-up and disposal required in real jobs.
LaserPaint’s spray gun attachment uses a laser to teach painters to maintain a consistent distance, which allows for proper overlap and control. The simulator also provides immediate feedback on spray techniques.
Supporting the process is a new “Coatings Technician Certification” manual—the first Marine Corps publication addressing paint application.
“It is hands-on training, allowing workers to judge their distance, thickness of spray and allow them to develop speed without the waste of using a booth,” said Mike Jackson, supervisor at the Marine Corps Maintenance Cost Work Center 749 in Albany, GA.
“It prepares workers, giving them an idea of what is to be expected and develop a rhythm.”
The Corps has also given application a much-needed high-tech makeover, with STAR4D now in use at Corps Maintenance Centers in Albany, GA, and Barstow, CA.
Gregory Russell / Marine Corps Logistics Base
|The Marine Corps Paint Booth at the Maintenance Management Center, in Albany, GA|
STAR4D was developed primarily to tackle overspray problems. The waste, mess and hazardous exposure of overspray are always a concern in civilian painting, but the problems carry even higher stakes for the Marines.
Since the 1980s, the military has used a Chemical Agent Resistant Coating (CARC), developed to counter the threat of chemical agents on the battlefield, Ray Davidson, of the Corps’ Albany Maintenance Center, wrote in a recent article.
CARC, a polyurethane coating, is now used on all Marine Corps’ combat, combat support and combat service support equipment, Davidson reports. Although the coating is durable, it is both environmentally hazardous and very expensive, making overspray an acute cost, safety, health and environmental issue.
Traditionally, spray painting at Marine facilities has meant using an industrial-size paint booth outfitted with ventilation and environmental controls. That has meant not only “a significant amount of waste from overspray” but more sludge disposal, faster degradation of painted parts hit by overspray, and costly waste, Davidson writes.
In searching for a safer, less expensive way to apply the coating, STAR4D was born.
Doubling Transfer Efficiency
With STAR4D, “the atomized paint particles are delivered at low speeds to the object being painted, so less paint is lost as overspray, bounce and blow back,” according to Davidson.
Transfer Efficiency (the ratio of sprayed paint that actually hits the targeted area)—which averages 15 to 30 percent for air-pressure atomized spray painting—is more than 60 percent with the Marines’ system, Davidson says.
That’s a saving of about $495 and 66 pounds of VOC emissions for a 55-gallon drum of $30-a-gallon coating, Davidson says. He says the technologies have saved the maintenance centers at Barstow and Albany about 60 gallons of paint per year for every 300 gallons used—a savings of about $200,000 with significant improvement in material readiness, the Marines say.
The Marines, always on the move, have now made the system mobile to take it to the Fleet Marine Forces. With a laser gun, laptop computer and screen with metric displays, the system can now serve students anywhere with practice and immediate feedback.
The MACT-compliant system “is constantly getting better,” said Jackson, “and the more it does, the better we can train our employees and also save money on things such as paint. Along with saving the time that we would be using the booth for training, we can now use it for pushing more products off the line.”