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AFB Tests Lasers for Surface Prep

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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Travis Air Force Base, located in California, was one of two bases recently chosen to test the Clean Laser 1000 and the Clean Laser 300 as a new way to remove both corrosion and paint from aerospace equipment.

According to Brian Brown, 60th MXS aircraft structural maintenance corrosion manager, what sets the laser apart is its ability to remove corrosion without removing metal, noting that the “laser burns off corrosion without taking any metal with it.”

Corrosion Removal

Those working on the equipment cannot use paint removers, so sanders have taken their place, but this option also has its problems—namely blending the crack, which covers up the severity of the corrosion, and being unable to tell how much paint material is actually being removed.

U.S. Air Force

Travis Air Force Base, located in California, was one of two bases chosen to test the Clean Laser 1000 and the Clean Laser 300 as a new way to remove both corrosion and paint from aerospace equipment.

“With the lasers, you’re not removing surface or polishing the surface, you are only removing paint and corrosion,” noted Troy Chuckran, 60th MXS aircraft structural maintenance journeyman.

Other benefits to the use of the laser in corrosion removal, the Air Force notes, are a reduction in the amount of waste produced (in comparison with a sander), and less personal protective equipment required.

“Now we don’t wear the Tyvek suit,” said Chuckran. “All we need are specialized glasses, hearing protection and gloves. It’s a major improvement especially in the summer when the Tyvek suit becomes a sauna suit.”

Laser Specs

The Clean Laser 1000, made by German firm Clean Laser and one of a number of laser surface-prep devices on the market, reportedly uses no media, chemicals or water, is self-contained and fully mobile, and contained a diode pumped laser source. The laser can also be used for pre-treatment to enhance adhesive bonding, cleaning of large molds and weld seam retreatment.

The lasers are currently being used on all support equipment for the airframes at Travis, such as air conditioning units, hydraulic carts and a power generator, which provides power to the aircraft.

“I see the lasers as the future of removing paint and corrosion,” said Chuckran. “It will definitely have a huge impact once we can begin using them on the aircraft.”  


Tagged categories: Aerospace; Corrosion; Corrosion protection; Laser cleaning; NA; North America; Quality Control; U.S. Air Force

Comment from Patricia Engelbert, (3/21/2018, 9:45 AM)

I would really like the industry to move forward with this technology but when a laser beam vaporizes the coating or contaminant they break down into compounds and elements that can form new compounds in the air. It's vital that there is sufficient airflow or PPE to protect the operator and others from breathing in the materials that were vaporized.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (3/21/2018, 11:19 AM)

Patricia, you read my mind. The microplasma generated should break down coatings and solvents fairly completely (rendering them as carbon dioxide and water vapor in a similar fashion to plasma arc incineration of PCBs); however, metallic constituents (i.e. corrosion / oxidation) don't break down that way and could pose a hazard to the worker. I know there are cartridges for mercury vapor, but I don't know of any for other metallic vapors (like iron or aluminum).

Comment from Marc-André Vaillant, (3/21/2018, 6:30 PM)

It's said that it remove corrosion but what about mill scale ?

Comment from Patricia Engelbert, (3/22/2018, 12:03 PM)

Marc- Andre, I don't believe that would be possible to remove mill scale in this manner.

Comment from Marc-André Vaillant, (3/23/2018, 3:40 PM)

That's what I think too so maybe it is more focused on cleaning instead of surface prep before painting.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/2/2018, 9:48 AM)

I agree with Michael and Patricia - worker exposure is a definite concern. There needs to be information on the potential for vaporized metals, and organic compounds vaporized near the edge of the beam which would be vaporized, but not turned to carbon dioxide and water. It looks like the system may have an integrated vacuum, but that is not discussed either here or on the linked web page.

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