US Navy Utilizing Mobile Cold Spray Technology
The U.S. Navy recently announced that the Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) is integrating cold spray metallization technology at its depot to aid in reducing aircraft maintenance turnaround times and decreasing costs.
The technology is reportedly being fielded on the H-1 line at the depot’s detachment at Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after years of testing and evaluation.
“With this mobile, autonomous cold spray system, we’ll be bringing repair capabilities closer to the aircraft,” explained Jessica Templeton, the Air Vehicle and Materials Engineering lead with the Naval Air Systems Command Fleet Support Team’s Advanced Technology and Innovation Team at FRCE.
“We will be able to make repairs in the shadow of the aircraft that were previously not possible using existing, approved cold spray systems. And there’s flexibility in that the system can be programmed to run autonomously, or be used in-hand by qualified artisans.”
According to the U.S. Navy’s press release, the cold spray process bonds metal to metal in a relatively low-heat environment in order to deposit a coating onto a surface, or substrate. Solid metal powders are accelerated through a heated gas and directed toward a metallic substrate. The moving particles impact the surface and embed on the substrate, forming a strong bond.
Additionally, the coating can fill abrasions or gouges in some cases, as well as provide protective coverage in others.
The new technology will help cut down on turnaround times for aircraft maintenance as well as expenses, says US Navy Engineer.https://t.co/op6tNwsv0T— Interesting Engineering (@IntEngineering) March 12, 2023
“The system will save time, because the artisans won’t have to fully disassemble the aircraft in order to complete these specific, approved repairs,” Templeton continued. “We’ll save on time and costs associated with transporting certain parts and components from one location to another.
“And we’ll further save on costs by returning to use some components that would have been scrapped before, but can now be salvaged through the cold spray process. There are so many benefits to having this system approved for use.”
Templeton said that most cold spray systems currently utilized by the Navy are located in booths, which can create size limitations. The mobile system mitigates these constraints, as well as offering the possibility of on-aircraft repairs in locations that don’t have permanent cold spray booths.
Tim McCardle, a support equipment logistics management specialist with NAVAIR’s Marine Corps Light/Attack Helicopters Program Office (PMA-276), said officials anticipate the system will have a positive impact on readiness by helping ensure components reach their full service life, rather than being scrapped early due to wear, as is the case with the H-1 combining gearbox.
“The cold spray system being previously used to make these repairs is not mobile,” he said. “With this version, you can take the tools to the aircraft rather than having to wait to bring the aircraft to the tools. You save a lot of motion that way by not having to move an entire aircraft.”
“The new system will help cut the time the assets are out of service for repairs, and greatly improve the range of repairs that can be completed,” said Kevin Conner, H-1 Drives and Diagnostics manager for NAVAIR’s H-1 Fleet Support Team at FRCE.
“This capability affords the opportunity to execute in-service repairs in place of transferring the entire aircraft out of the squadron and into the depot, which reduces the aircraft’s time out of service and increases mission readiness.”
Recent Army Research
Last month, the Letterkenny Army Depot (LEAD) in Pennsylvania held a demonstration for Department of Defense, private industry and academia participants of their latest applications of cold spray technology. The cold spray innovations to mitigate corrosion on Army systems included robotics and mobile applications.
“Cold spray is an additive manufacturing technology that we’re using to repair parts,” said Ashley Filling, a production engineer at LEAD. “Unlike other additive manufacturing technologies that are used to make parts, cold spray is used to repair many different materials. We’re focusing on several aluminum alloys and a high-hard steel repair.”
Filling said that LEAD is looking at getting a robot on capital investment for 2025, as application is currently completed by hand spray. They are reportedly working with the Army Research Lab and Penn State to advance more repairs.
According to the Army’s release, utilizing cold spray repairs on a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System roof saved LEAD over 12 months in repair time and over $750,000 in cost savings.
For the demonstration, the mobile system was the result of collaboration between DEVCOM-ARL, VRC Metal Systems, Northeastern University and U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center. The unit comprises two trailers, with one for the generator and the second for gas compression and storage.
Additionally, the gas compression trailer contained an easily maneuverable cart, allowing the robotic arm, cold spray machine and spraying equipment to be wheeled in close proximity to the asset for repair. This mobile unit also comes equipped with a dust collector to mitigate localized overspray.
“Being able to provide a deployable capability, to make repairs in the field when the damage first starts as opposed to waiting until they get back to the depot, will be a huge win,” Filling remarked.
“Stopping corrosion and other damage in the field means the assets should return in better shape, require less work and save time and money in the repair process. This will help our Soldiers keep their equipment in the field longer in better working order.”