Aircraft Paint Removal Robot Launching Next Year


A robotic system from Dutch robotics specialist Xyrec is anticipating an operations launch with a major aircraft manufacturer by mid-2023. The Laser Coating Removal (LCR) robotic system is reportedly a state-of-the-art, sustainable paint stripping solution for all types of commercial and military aircraft and helicopters.

The company claims that the LCR outperforms current and planned methods for stripping and depainting aircraft.

About Xyrec, LCR System

Founded in 2008, Xyrec has conducted global research into methods for decoating, while exploring the business cases for automated robotic solutions. In 2011, the company determined that the use of a new laser technology could achieve faster turnaround times, but only if stronger lasers were developed with more advanced technology to control the laser beam.

Xyrec was then introduced to the Southwest Research Institute, which was reportedly already producing robots for the maintenance of fighter aircraft. They also teamed up with Trumpf and EWI to develop the required technology.

The first conceptual proposal for the robot was released in 2012. The engineering of the first robot began in 2015 with the LCR robot. In late 2020, Xyrec moved into a custom-built facility at Port San Antonio to use the past two years to test and improve the LCR system.

In July of last year, Xyrec announced the results of testing the LCR robot, proving it was commercially viable. The robot reportedly stripped in full a large piece of a B727 fuselage to demonstrate the speed of the process to its launching customer.

Proving successful and meeting their minimum requirements, the results were confirmed by Structural Dynamics and Product Assurance Group from the Southwest Research Institute. The LCR stripped 100 µ (4 mil) effectively at a speed of 44 square meters (475 square feet) per hour, not exceeding the 65 degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit) maximum temperature and operating in a 32 C ambient temperature hangar.

Using these results, Xyrec confirmed that they would be able to increase the stripping thickness to their projections, removing at least 180 µ on more than 40 square meters per hour. The requirements from the SAE MA4872A standard for thermal paint removal are still met at this removal rate.

Some benefits of using this method include 50% less processing time and a 90% reduction in labor, as well as low operating costs and minimum maintenance, Xyrec reports. Additionally, there is no chemical waste or dust generation, with selective coating removal, the company says.

Next Steps

According to reports, Xyrec is targeting a “robot-as-a-service” model, meaning customers will pay per job to remove paint with any color or substrate from any type of aircraft.

Xyrec CEO Peter Boeijink told reporters that, using two robots, the system is capable of completely stripping paint from a C-17 in approximately 20 hours. He adds that traditional aircraft paint removal processes for this aircraft take approximately two weeks.

Following the launch with its first customer, Boeijink plans to target implementation at the “big six” in the U.S., including American Airlines, Delta Airlines, FedEx, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and UPS. He says that many airlines have moved towards outsourcing paint removal services due to the complexity and messy nature of this type of work.

Additionally, the company is reportedly planning to target potential military customers, such as the U.S. Air Force, which has already invested in the use of lasers to remove paint and coatings.

Aviation Week reports that Xyrec plans to establish six regional centers in the U.S. for the paint removal services, two of which are anticipated to open by the end of 2024. Xyrec also hopes to open 30 global sites by 2027.

The facilities will reportedly offer both paint removal and robotic painting with its Automated Paint Robot, which Xyrec says offers quicker paint time, reduced paint usage and more consistent paint thicknesses.

Boeijink notes that increased pressure on aviation companies to control sustainability impacts within their supply chains is also driving the business.

“The current model where operators are outsourcing [paint removal] is not using robots like we produce,” he notes, pointing out that it is “dirty, ugly work” that uses a large amount of chemicals and water. 

However, the LCR system vacuums paint particles as the laser passes over the aircraft surface and collects them in a bag for disposal. This process reportedly results in only around 2 pounds of waste in powder form, compared to approximately 475 gallons of chemicals and 3,700 gallons of water generated through traditional paint removal methods.


Tagged categories: aircraft; Asia Pacific; Aviation; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Paint and coatings removal; Paint Removal; Program/Project Management; Robotics; Surface preparation equipment; Technology; Tools; Tools & Equipment; Xyrec; Z-Continents

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