Automated Rotor Blade Stripping System (ARBSS) Enhancement

NCMS Project #: 140504

Problem: In 2009, an NCMS/CTMA project fielded a demonstration ARBS system at FRC East. This installation, which is shown in the photograph on the cover page, uses 3 lasers to remove the paint with General Lasertronics Corp (Lasertronics) surface recognition technology included to protect the flight-critical, rotor blade substrate material. Due to funding constraints, the system was installed using older, legacy technology lasers, which generated lower power than the laser used for process qualification and approval. Even with legacy lasers, the fully operational ARBSS reduces the cost of blade stripping by $2,560 per blade. At full utilization (250 days/year, 2 shifts/day, 2 blades/shift) the savings would be $2.6M/year. The FRC East ARBSS successfully demonstrated the technology and the overall system reliability during 2010 and early 2011, but the legacy lasers have since become unreliable. In addition, ARBSS is built for only the H-53 rotor blade. Currently, the system is operational but with only one laser online.

FRC East is currently ramping up to process rotor blades from other platforms, including the V22, H-60, and H-1. The potential benefits of using ARBSS for this expected workload are well understood. In FY 2014, FRC-East Capital Investment Program (CIP) funding is allocated to upgrade ARBSS to include higher power lasers, hardware modifications, and software expansion to support the other platforms. The upgrade will reduce blade processing time by a factor of at least five and will greatly improve production reliability.

Unfortunately, the allocated FY 2014 CIP funding will not bring the upgraded ARBSS online until the end of FY 2014. With only one legacy laser operational, the utilization of the ARBSS prior to upgrades will be significantly limited. Repair of the existing system during FY 2013 would increase immediate usage and save the Navy significant funds between July 2013 and mid 2014. More importantly, reliable production utilization of ARBSS will re-establish confidence in the technology at FRC-East and other military activities. An additional issue is that the ARBSS needs a process approval for use of the upgraded ARBSS on V22 and H-1 substrate materials.


  • Immediate cost reduction
  • Reliable performance
  • Qualification of process for V22 and H-1 coatings and substrate materials.
  • Valuable manufacturing information

Solution/Approach: Lasertronics will provide the labor, supplies, and equipment to service the existing laser subsystem and to support requirements for NAVAIR approval of ARBSS for V22 and H-1 platforms. The project involves the following two efforts.

  1. Lasertronics, the ARBSS laser subsystem equipment supplier, shall provide service and warranty support for the ARBSS facility at FRC East through FY 2014. Lasertronics will coordinate service and repairs with operators and maintenance staff at FRC East and with the ARBSS System Integrator personnel from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Keyport, WA (NUWC-Keyport). NUWC-Keyport will be separately funded by FRC East. In addition to service and repair of the existing ARBSS, Lasertronics will coordinate redesign of upgrades to ARBSS subsystems.
  2. FRC East, with support from Lasertronics, plans to augment the process qualification results from the original ARBSS project by conducting additional test and evaluation of V22-type coupons. Under separate funding, the V22 coupons will be fabricated. In this task, Lasertronics will use the same Apps Lab laser used in the original ARBSS development project to depaint eight 12” x 12” V22 panels. No more than two of the eight panels will be re-painted by FRC-East and stripped in the Apps Lab three additional times prior to analysis by NAVAIR Patuxent River. To ensure consistency and compatibility with the original project results, Dr. Ted Reutzel of the Applied Research Laboratory of Penn State University will review the test plans and data report under this project.

Impact on Warfighter: For a presentation at the Fleet Readiness Center, East (FRC East) in late 2012, engineers from the FRC East Vertical Lift Center of Excellence (VLCE) and NAVAIR Patuxent River summarized the potential benefits and cost savings that could be derived from the use of an Automated Rotor Blade Stripping System (ARBSS) for helicopter maintenance. Benefits include worker safety, morale, labor costs, environmental impacts, production consistency, greater throughput, elimination of touch labor, and damage reduction. For the planned V22 workload at FRC East, the presentation concluded that the “Depot/DoD can save millions of dollars in turnaround time, man/labor hours, energy cost, and avoid damaging/scraping of the blades.”

DOD Participation:

  • U.S. Navy (NUWC Keyport)
  • U.S. Navy (NAVAIR Pax River)
  • U.S. Navy (FRC East)

Industry Participation:

  • Penn State ARL
  • General Lasertronics Corporation
  • NCMS

Final Report