Laser Coating Removal Robot

Today many maintenance depots and specialized paint shops remove paint and coatings from aircraft and helicopters by using methods such as chemical removers, abrasive sanding or plastic media blasting. These methods have in common that they are costly, time consuming, ergonomically unsafe, and produce large amounts of hazardous waste and emissions. Composite structures in new aircraft design will no longer allow the use of chemicals and the application of complex primers. And, coating paint systems will require more accurate and controlled methods that will allow selective removal of layers of paint without damaging the underlying layers.

The Laser Coating removal Robot (LCR) is a state-of-the-art, sustainable, high performance paint stripping solution for all types of commercial and military aircraft & helicopters. LCR is by far the most superior solution among the current and future (planned) methods for 'stripping/de-painting' of commercial and military aircraft / helicopters. LCR is the first in the world to develop and implement a robot of this kind with similar performance and economic benefits.

Technology

The LCR laser uses a 20 kW CO2 laser that can handle all paint colors. The laser evaporates and combusts the paint, while this paint effluent is immediately vacuumed from the surface and passed through the filtration system. The system has a built-in, closed-loop, color recognition and control system allowing it to strip both metal and composite surfaces in a very accurate way and make "selective stripping" possible. The laser is mounted on a 8 DOF robotic arm and 4 DOF mobile platform and is controlled by specifically designed software loaded in the LCR computer that has the capability to perform a geometric-robot path analysis of the aircraft. This allows the LCR to follow the three-dimensional contour of the aircraft in an optimal trajectory. For safety, a forward scanner is mounted on the robot end-effector to check the aircraft geometry in real-time. The system will be available in 4 sizes, the smallest for small aircraft such as fighter jets and helicopters, the largest for the A380. The system is fully autonomous and will be controlled by a single operator from behind a glass window separated supervisory room. The CO2 laser can remove the paint from the aircraft without damaging the metal or composite surface and will be fully compliant to the SAE MA4872A standard for thermal stripping as early tests in 2012 already showed. Furthermore, the LCR robot will comply with all safety requirements for labor and aircraft. The LCR concept is based on the use of a new generation of high-power lasers and a unique, patented laser scanner to overcome all restrictions and limitations of the conventional methods of paint stripping. Typically LCR offers 50% less processing time, major cost reduction per aircraft, minimum reliance on support facilities, applicability for all types of aircraft and helicopters and at the same time fully compliant with quality and standards in the aircraft industry.

The benefits and operational characteristics
  • 50% less processing time
  • 90% reduction in labour
  • Low operating costs, minimum maintenance
  • Applicable for both metal and composite structures
  • Applicable to all sizes of helicopters and aircraft
  • Applicable for all colours of paint and coating
  • Allow selective coating removal (just top coat, primer)
  • Clean, no chemical waste, No dust generation, no clean-up
  • Robot is fully scalable in size, speed and auxiliary options
  • Easy to operate, fast set-up, single operator
  • 15 Years lifetime, without major revision
  • 95% COTS based components for the robot construction
  • Minimum hangar/paint shop support facilities
  • Easy positioning system with no equipment in the bay
  • Robot utilization optimization by sequential use in 2 bays
  • Cooling energy can be re-used for heating or cooling
  • Compliance with the SAE MA4872A Standard on Thermal Stripping
  • Compliance with EU, US, SG, BR, UAE quality and safety standard
  • CO2 Laser application suitability already confirmed by USAF

A breakthrough in paint stripping technology: Unique, Sustainable, and Cost-Effective

Automatic Painting Robot

The APR is developed on the backdrop of a feasibility study that LR Systems conducted for Airbus in the 3Q of 2015. Airbus wanted to achieve a much higher productivity and effective of the paint processes in its A320 paint hangars in Hamburg, due to an increasing production rate. The standard manual use of spray guns was considered not suitable any longer. By using the already existing LCR platform a very cost-effective basic and autonomous solution was created in combination with the use of COTS rotary bell spray-gun (from the automotive industry) and with the development of a number of new functions.

APR applications

From the study for Airbus a complete automated paint end-to-end paint process was developed, that included the following functionalities and applications:

  • Sanding: The process that lightly "sands" the primer for (re) activation before the paint layer is sprayed. Similar sanding will reactivate an existing paint layer before the next paint is prayed.
  • Cleaning: The process that cleans the surface after the paint stripping process is completed. This function is also suitable for cleaning of aircraft during inspection intervals at A and B checks.
  • Spraying: The process that will spay sol-gel, primer and clear-coatings by means of a spray gun.
  • Rotary Bell spraying: The process that allows a much more effective paint process by using an electrostatic process and yields to less paint for achieving the same result as more conventional methods.
  • UV Curing (Drying): The process that reduces the dry-time of clear-coatings from the current 14 hours to 2 hours.
  • (Partial) Direct Printing: The process that allows full masking and color painting of the aircraft.
APR benefits and operational characteristics
  • Much better facility planning through-out the year
  • 80% reduction of labor costs
  • Process workflow reduction in the MRO operation (A320+B777 10%, A380 35%)
  • Reduction of paint by 27% (with Direct Printing > 30%) as a result of more efficient spraying, respectively printing
  • Higher quality and predictability in the paint process
  • No cost increase with complex livery schemes a result of marketing campaigns or new branding schemes
  • No hazardous paint fumes
  • Safer and healthier working environment

Dedicated development laboratory located in San Antonio, Texas, USA

Laboratory