MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, NC – (Defense Market) – Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE), a division in the US Navy, has successfully tested laser cleaning technology on aircraft support components to remove corrosion and other hazardous coatings safely.
FRCE provides maintenance, repair, and overhaul support to virtually every weapons platform the Marine Corps has flown. FRCE Advanced Technology and Innovation (ATI) Team and Materials Engineering Division have been striving to bring laser ablation technology to the facility.
Typically, aircraft support components are cleaned using plastic blasting and mechanical removal methods. Both options use a significant amount of consumables, can be dangerous to operate, and require extensive PPE.
“Plastic blasting and mechanical removal with sanders are similar processes, but they create a lot more dust and waste,” said Chase Templeton, FRCE robotics, support equipment, and wiring technology lead engineer. “Any time you have plastic media blasting or some of these other processes, the waste that’s produced is considered hazardous waste. It’s very expensive to remove and to dispose of.”
Adapt Laser, a laser solutions provider, recently demonstrated laser ablation technology at FRCE using a handheld laser solution. During the demonstration, several groups of maintenance artisans, engineers, Marines from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 14 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, and Coast Guardsmen from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, wore laser safety glasses and watched as representatives of Adapt Laser stripped paint from a large aircraft engine can, aircraft components, and test-panels with various coating systems.
Timothy Niemeier, Vice President at Adapt Laser explains how laser ablation works, “Our laser solutions use thousands of laser pulses per second to remove contaminants, corrosion, and hazardous coatings. Unlike other abrasive cleaning methods, laser ablation doesn’t impact the integrity of the substrate or create hazardous mixed waste. Coatings and contaminants removed by our laser ablation process are safely captured by filters and easily disposed of. This makes it a more cost-effective and safer cleaning solution compared to traditional methods.”
During the demonstration, FRCE team members and viewers were surprised by the additional benefits discovered. Chad Richards, an aircraft examiner, was impressed at how quiet the laser solution was, compared to the robust noise level associated with abrasive blasting. “Right now, you can’t be understood when you’re blasting. With laser ablation, you can have someone right beside you talking.”
With the demonstration considered an overall success, the ATI team must now develop a cost-benefit analysis that would lead to the handheld laser ablation system’s procurement. Despite handheld units costing between $400,000 and $500,000, FRCE engineers say they expect the system would pay for itself in the long run — with reduced costs for purchase and disposal of hazardous materials, as well as the benefits of quicker turnaround time, improved worker safety, and decreased environmental hazards.
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul, and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military, and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $900 million. The depot generates combat airpower for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater US Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.
ABOUT ADAPT LASER
Adapt Laser is a laser cleaning solutions provider based in Kansas City, Missouri. They’ve equipped a variety of industries and companies with laser cleaning systems — including the DoD for the US Air Force, Navy, and Army — as well as hundreds of organizations that save time and money with their state-of-the-art laser cleaning solutions. With systems ranging from 20 – 2,000 watts, they provide customized laser solutions that can safely and precisely clean a wide range of metal products.