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University, Corporation Partnering on Paint-Stripping Robots

Artist's depiction of robots deployed to strip coatings from a C-130 cargo plane (National Robotics Engineering Center)

Artist’s depiction of robots deployed to strip coatings from a C-130 cargo plane (National Robotics Engineering Center)

National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Concurrent Technologies Corporation in Johnstown, Pennsylvania are developing robotic systems with lasers to strip paint from aircraft. The two-year project is funded by a contract from the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, with participation from the Air Force Research Laboratory and Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The dollar amount of the contract was not disclosed.

The project aims to develop six autonomous mobile robots, each with a laser coating remover. The robots are expected to work work in teams to remove paint and other coatings from aircraft at Hill AFB. So far, National Robotics Engineering Center and Concurrent Technologies have built a prototype now being tested by Concurrent Technologies.

The stripping of paints and coatings on the aircrafts’ skins by the robots is done with a continuous-wave laser, a laser with continuous light emission. These lasers, say the developers, make it possible to remove paint and coatings without abrasives or chemical paint removers, and thus without significant hazardous wastes or air emissions. The process also uses a high-efficiency particulate air system to collect the paint and coatings removed from the aircraft, further reducing its environmental impact.

The robots are being designed to work in teams, with the size of each team varying based on the size of the aircraft. The system generates stripping plans based on the type of aircraft and can dynamically update the plan while stripping is under way.

The robots will be programmed to strip paint from precise target regions of the aircraft and avoiding sections without paint to be removed, thus saving clock and staff time needed to mask non-stripped parts. Laser beams are properly angled against the aircraft skin, adjusting to the shape of each area of the aircraft. The robots also keep laser beams moving over the surface at a slow enough speed to ensure complete stripping, without harming the aircraft surface.

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