NCMS Vice President Chuck Ryan recently visited the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Keyport, to honor their work on the Automated Robotic Blade Stripping System (ARBSS) project. The ARBSS project was awarded a Defense Manufacturing Excellence Award presented by the National Center for Advanced Technologies (NCAT) for outstanding cooperative efforts on technology development between government, industry and academia.
NUWC Keyport was part of an NCMS team which included Koops Inc., Naval Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) East, Penn State Applied Research Laboratory, General Lasertronics Corporation, Sikorsky Aircraft Company, to create an innovative solution for the refurbishment of helicopter blades.
FRC East refurbishes up to 150 helicopter rotor blades each month. Prior to ARBSS, technicians removed the topcoat of paint using pneumatic hand orbital sanders. This slow, error-prone process demands hours of tedious labor in a sweltering, hazardous environment while wearing protection equipment to avoid toxic dust inhalation. Stress injuries, fatigue, and lost time are significant problems.
Determined to improve this process with advanced laser and vision systems, the NCMS-managed ARBSS team developed a proven automated robotic laser paint stripping technology that strips helicopter blades 75% faster than traditional methods, with practically zero error. The precision required stripping only the paint of a blade while leaving the primer coat intact thereby eliminating damage or wear to the substrate. This process is expected to save $900,000 annually, eliminates the generation of secondary hazardous waste, and provides an unprecedented level of safety and comfort for the maintainers.