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  Laser Coating Removal for Aircraft

Laser paint and coatings remover

Mobile robotic base. The laser coatings remover is the end effector on the manipulator arm.

Teams of mobile robots use laser paint strippers to safely remove coatings from a fighter jet.

Prototype interface for virtual masking.


Laser Coatings Remover (CTC)
The laser coatings remover combines several commercially available technologies into one integrated product. The source is an industrial high powered, continuous wave laser.  Advanced optics focus the laser beam and raster it across the surface of the aircraft.  The laser is not eye-safe and can only be operated remotely via robotics.

Real time spectral analysis of the laser ablation process allows the system to selectively remove coatings. A custom-designed, high efficiency particle attenuation (HEPA) system safely captures the resulting waste and debris for disposal.

Autonomous Mobile Robotic Platform (NREC)
Autonomous mobile robots use the laser coatings remover to strip coatings and paint from aircraft.  The robots make extensive use of commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) components to reduce costs, simplify maintenance, and make the system easier to upgrade in the future.

A coordinated team of robots works together to efficiently remove paint from the aircraft.  Safeguarding sensors allow the robots to avoid collisions.  The system’s scalable architecture handles different-sized aircraft by changing the number of robots on the team. For example, a fighter-sized plane might require a team of two robots; a cargo plane might require a team of four robots. This scalability also makes the system more robust to failure. 

The system generates a plan for covering the strippable surfaces of the plane.  Each type of aircraft has a different basic coverage plan. The system dynamically updates these plans while the plane is being stripped to optimize coverage and minimize processing time. 

The robot’s advanced sensors detect and classify the state of aircraft surfaces. The system uses this information to update coverage plans and selectively remove paint and coatings.  For example, it can modify its coverage plan to avoid areas where coatings have already been removed.  

User Interface and Virtual Masking                  
Maintenance personnel can start, stop, and monitor the robots’ progress through a computer graphical user interface (GUI).

The GUI also supports virtual masking.  A virtual mask acts like a physical mask to protect sensitive areas that cannot be stripped with the laser coatings remover.  Before stripping begins, maintenance personnel highlight areas to be masked on a computer model of the aircraft.  The robots automatically avoid these areas while they are working.  This lowers the time it takes to prepare aircraft for paint removal. 

Approved for public release by 88 ABW: Case number 88ABW-2012-2967

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