Robotic Automated Coating Removal System (RACRS) – Phase I

NCMS Project #: 140446

Problem: The DoD inventory contains:

  • Over 5,000 helicopters (including about 2,360 H-60s and about 240 H-53s)
  • Estimate 1,770 blades require paint stripping annually
  • About 100 V-22 tiltrotors (to grow to over 450)
  • Estimated repaintings/year: 5 first year, increasing as inventory and age increase

Virtually all major helicopters and tiltrotors have composite main rotor blades that are also hand-sanded, or at best, impact blasted to remove the paint.  In such cases, there is an increased risk of damage to the blade because of the lack of control of the coating removal process.  In addition, hazardous waste can be greatly reduced through the use of a laser stripping system, saving an addition $100K per year.

Currently, the removal of paint from a V-22 consumes 372 hours of labor, so that this step of the repair process only allows throughput of a single aircraft per month.  Depot workload for the V-22 is expected to increase ten-fold over the current maintenance workload.  This increase will also mean that Fleet Readiness Center East (FRC-E) will need
to hire over 100 new workers to handle the coating removal workload.  In addition, the current process relies upon manual sanding to remove the coatings.  Hand-sanding requires relatively skillful artisans so as to not damage the wire mesh lightning protector just underneath the outer coatings.


Tops-down Enterprise Potential Annual Savings:

  • DoD spends $1.2B removing paint/coatings from weapons systems and components
    • 20% A/C; 20% ships; 40% ground vehicles; 20% components/other
  • RACRS ultimately applicable to:
    • 75% of A/C systems; 50% of ground vehicles; 30% of components/other
  • A/C stripping MMH/cost reduced by 80%, ground vehicles reduction 70%, components 80%
  • Potential annual savings:
    • A/C: $144M/year
    • Ground vehicles: $168M/year
    • Components/other: $65M/year
    • Total Potential Savings: $377M/year

Initial Bottoms-up Labor Savings Analysis:

  • 22 man-hours to hand-sand an H-53 blade versus 3 hours with a fully-functional upgraded ARBSS
  • 1,200 man-hours to hand sand the V-22 versus 50 hours for laser stripping
  • The labor rate, including benefits and leave time, is assumed to be $100/production hour.
    • Labor Savings per Blade = 19 man-hours x $100 = $1,900
    • Labor Savings per V-22 = 1,150 man-hours x $100 = $115,000

Hazardous Waste Savings: Hazardous waste savings for both ARBSS and the V-22 installation are estimated to be $100K/year compared to alternative methods, such as hand-sanding.

Solution/Approach: In order to increase the depot throughput of V-22 aircraft, an automated and less labor intensive system must be developed and deployed.  Using the Automated Rotor Blade Stripping System (ARBSS) system as a base, the overall project will first develop and deploy enhanced ARBSS versions that will be more robust, able to achieve faster stripping rates, and can be easily reconfigured to handle a variety of blades and propellers.  The project will then extend the technology in scale to design and deploy a RACRS to a V-22 fuselage with reconfigurability to other similarly sized vertical lift vehicles.  In addition to the primary coating removal via the use of lasers, the project will develop reconfigurable robotic systems that would include automated robotic head path planning, sensing, and control to minimize the use of labor in the coating removal process.

The RACRS program is currently envisioned in three segments:

  1. The development of an ARBSS+ system that will enhance the current installed system at FRC-E into a unit that is more reliable, has a higher stripping rate, and can handle both H-53 and H-60 helicopter blades. (planned Year 1 dependent on funding)
  2. The development of a stationary RACRS flexible work cell that is the design basis for a full RACRS and whose delivered capability will include the ability to strip H-60 blades. (planned Year 1 dependent on funding)
  3. The development of a portable RACRS capable of stripping an entire V-22 fuselage, minus the propellers. (planned Year 2 dependent on funding)

Phase I of the project will develop the engineering approach and design of the enhanced ARBSS system.  In addition, Phase I will begin to define the operational space for the development and deployment of the RACR system for the
V-22 aircraft.

The overall RACRS program will produce the following deliverables:

  • ARBSS+ unit fully operational and in production at FRC-E
  • Development and deployment of a RACRS Stationary Work Cell
  • Development and deployment of a full V-22 RACRS.

Impact on Warfighter: Improved readiness levels for V-22.

DOD Participation:

  • U.S. Navy (FRC East)
  • U.S. Army (Corpus Christi)
  • U.S. Air Force (WR-ALC)
  • U.S. Navy (NUWC Keyport)

Industry Participation:

  • Koops, Inc.
  • General Lasertronics
  • Penn State Applied Research Laboratory
  • Battelle
  • SIS
  • API
  • NCMS

Final Report