As aerospace manufacturers and their engineering teams push the design envelope to create aircraft with better fuel efficiency and lower maintenance requirements, they are relying increasingly on engineered materials for a growing list of structural and non-structural elements and components. This trend is changing the way aircraft are developed, produced and maintained. It's also presenting opportunities for specialty materials suppliers with products that can improve production times, enhance performance, and/or extend maintenance intervals. Because of its ability to meet the needs of aircraft design teams, aerospace coatings are becoming an indispensible part of the aerospace industry.
Earlier this year PPG Industries’ aerospace coatings group commercialized what it said at the time was the first electrocoat application primer for global airframe manufacturers and subcontractors to coat parts for commercial, military and general aviation aircraft.
Aerocron electrocoat primer by PPG Aerospace was designed to provide better corrosion protection than conventional spray primer because electrocoating enhances part coverage, according to Mark Cancilla, PPG global platform director for aerospace coatings. It also provides nearly 100 percent product utilization, reduces primer weight for enhanced aircraft fuel economy, and eliminates worker overspray exposure.
PPG Aerospace is working closely with customers during the launch of Aerocron electrocoat primer to enable them to gain product and process experience before ramping up, Cancilla said.
“As electrocoating was for the automotive industry, the process is truly revolutionary for aerospace primer application,” Cancilla said. “PPG has been a leader in developing electrocoat products for nearly a half-century, and today its e-coat products protect more automobiles produced worldwide than any other company’s. With our unparalleled knowledge of the e-coat process and unique understanding of aerospace coatings, PPG developed Aerocron electrocoat primer to meet the application needs of airframe manufacturers as well as the operating and maintenance requirements of airlines and other aircraft operators.”
Primer is applied to metal aircraft structures for corrosion resistance. While primer is typically sprayed onto metal parts, in the electrocoating, or electrodeposition, process, metal parts are dipped into an electrically charged tank of primer.
Robin Peffer, PPG senior research chemist at the company’s Coatings Innovation Center in Allison Park, Pa., was instrumental in the development of Aerocron electrocoat primer.
“PPG’s strong history of developing corrosion-resistant electrocoat products for automotive and industrial applications enabled us to adapt the technology for aerospace,” Peffer said. “The value for aerospace is to continue this history of providing protection while meeting the specific performance requirements of aircraft operators. Aerocron electrocoat primer coats parts uniformly, even in the recessed areas of complex-shaped parts, and at reduced weight, which translates to long-term aircraft operation savings.”
Andreas Tolz, PPG aerospace coatings technical projects manager for Europe based at the Gonfreville, France, aerospace coatings facility, leads the commercial introduction of Aerocron electrocoat primer in Europe.
“Aerocron electrocoat primer is formulated to help applicators get the most from the electrocoat process, providing a real breakthrough for the aerospace industry in several ways,” Tolz said. “For aircraft manufacturers and subcontractors, the electrocoat process can be fully automated and offers increased material utilization, making it a good ‘green’ choice. For their customers, it adds value to finished aircraft by providing better corrosion protection and lighter weight.”
What is electrocoat?
Electrocoating, or electrodeposition, uses electrical current to apply a coating to a conductive substrate submerged in a water-based paint bath. The process can be fully automated.
After pretreatment, the part enters an electrocoat bath where a charge is applied and the amount of primer needed is deposited onto it. Once coated, the part is rinsed to remove any residual primer, and then it is baked at a temperature that accommodates the aviation industry’s needs. Aerocron primer is fully cured in about 30 minutes PPG said.
Advantages for the aerospace industry
Aerocron electrocoat primer is water-based for low solvent emissions. Compared with typical conventional spray priming, electrocoating provides increased productivity and efficiency, affording nearly 100 percent material utilization and no overspray. Also, the electrocoating process produces minimal waste because it returns rinses to the electrocoat bath.
Additionally, electrocoating provides uniform primer application, even in recessed areas, which results in excellent corrosion protection and durability. Only the amount of primer needed is deposited onto the metal surface, which results in the thinnest coating required and minimizes the weight of the finished part.
Airbus A319 receives custom colors
In recent news, PPG Aerospace created custom paint colors for British Airways’ dove livery, which is being used on nine Airbus A319 aircraft to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
PPG Aerospace coatings specialists worked with livery artist Pascal Anson to supply Desothane HS/CA 8000 series topcoats in gold, light grey and white. A two-step gold mica created outlines of feathers, which were accented in white and painted over a light grey fuselage to represent the body and wings of the dove. Gold on the cockpit created the dove’s beak, and gold on the tail created the British Airways Chatham Dockyard Union flag design. Desothane HS/CA 8000/B900A clear topcoat provided a final protective coating.
“All the colors used for the aircraft were bespoke,” said Alex Reid, PPG Aerospace account manager at the North Europe application support center based at the PPG Shildon plant in Northern England.
Anson visited the PPG Shildon coatings manufacturing plant to select colors. “He wanted to design his own gold,” Reid said. “The plane had to be light grey to make it look like a dove, so together we designed a grey and a special gold mica with a unique base color to achieve the desired effect.”
British Airways made the paint masks. “They have their own graphics shop, so everything was produced in-house,” Reid said. “There was only one drawing of how to paint the plane.”
As British Airways uses PPG’s selectively strippable coatings system on its Airbus fleet, Reid added, the repainting process was simplified. With this system, the topcoat and intermediate coat are designed to be easily removed, and the primer is left intact. The aircraft is washed, and the intermediate coat and topcoat are reapplied. The system typically saves about a day repainting this type of aircraft.
British Airways is the biggest user of PPG’s selectively strippable coatings system for Airbus aircraft, Reid said.
The topcoats for the gold mica were produced at the PPG Aerospace plant at Gonfreville, France, to British Airways’ specification, while the grey and white topcoats were mixed at Shildon.
The first airplane was unveiled live on British television in April.
Several months ago PPG said it relocated and expanded its Toulouse, France-area aerospace sales office. In addition to housing staff who serve regional PPG transparencies and coatings customers, the larger facility includes a paint spray booth, and a technical laboratory is being completed for transparency engineering analysis starting later in 2012.
“As with PPG aerospace sales offices and application support centers that are located strategically near key customers’ operations around the world, this new office positions us closer to Airbus and other local customers, enhancing our ability to provide them with quick local sales, customer service, coatings technical service and transparencies engineering support,” said Roald Johannsen, PPG Aerospace general manager for Europe, Middle East, Africa and India.
The new facility includes a climate-controlled paint spray booth for product optimization and application training, Johannsen said. Additionally, the facility’s laboratory for transparency engineering analysis will enhance window development and increase convenience for airframe manufacturers and airlines in the region, he said, as PPG now does such analyses at the Huntsville, Ala., and Sylmar, Calif., transparencies plants.
Pascal Chaumel, Airbus nose fuselage architect, said, “For PPG to have windshield analysis capability so close to our Toulouse facility will enable us to gain better understanding in the design and development process while being more effective in communicating with our administration, program, aftermarket support and quality departments as well as our customers.”
The staff of the new PPG sales office, which is located at 41 avenue Jean Monnet, 31770 Colomiers, France, provides regional support to original-equipment and maintenance customers in commercial, business and military aviation as well as military land-based transportation.
China’s aerospace industry is taking off
While the commercial aircraft sector as a whole will continue to struggle with profitability issues that have resulted in several changes in the competitive landscape and in the operating models of the surviving companies, new aircraft orders from regional carriers, many based in emerging economies, are pushing order books and stretching lead times. The result for coatings suppliers will be increasing opportunities tempered by intense competition with regional suppliers for design wins. To participate fully in the evolving market opportunity for aerospace coatings, suppliers must be willing to invest heavily in pre-sales support by teaming with manufacturers to develop the pilot programs that will be required to bring new applications to market.
China is one high growth market whose aerospace industry is expanding rapidly. The country has discovered an enormous domestic market for passenger jets and plans to produce them itself. The C919 is the first Chinese medium-range aircraft developed and manufactured entirely in the People‘s Republic.
The C919 is expected to make its maiden flight in 2014, and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. (COMAC) has scheduled first deliveries of the mass-produced aircraft for 2016.
According to information from the manufacturer, interest in the new plane has been high ever since COMAC presented the prototype of the C919 at the Airshow China in November 2010.
The C919 is being marketed as a serious contender to the passenger aircraft of industry heavyweights like Boeing and Airbus. All the Chinese airlines, from Air China through China Eastern to China Southern Airlines, plan to use this passenger aircraft made in and for China on their domestic routes in the future. Depending on the version, the C919 will be able to carry between 160 and 190 passengers over a range of up to 5,500 kilometers.
Keeping with China’s high growth trend, PPG recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of PPG Aerospace Materials (Suzhou) Co. Ltd.
PPG Aerospace Materials (Suzhou) Co. Ltd. was established in March 2002 to meet the needs of major aerospace original equipment manufacturers as well as the rapidly growing Asia Pacific maintenance (MRO) market. It is one of 16 global Application Support Centers for PPG Aerospace.
"Over the past decade, ASC-Suzhou has expanded its product portfolio and gradually localized its production of aerospace materials in China and other countries in the Asia Pacific region, significantly fueling the growth of the regional aerospace manufacturing industry," said Paul Bowman, PPG general manager, aerospace materials, Asia Pacific. "Additionally, achieving a decade of manufacturing safety is notable, particularly for a chemical company. We share the best practices that lead to success here in Suzhou with PPG plants all around the world."
PPG Aerospace Materials (Suzhou) Co. Ltd. has improved its quality management system through its first 10 years, gaining qualification from both Boeing and Airbus. PPG also was the first chemical company approved by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to design and manufacture dozens of coating products and other aerospace materials. To meet growing demand in the Asia Pacific region, ASC-Suzhou's windshield framing repair service was added to offer customers regional window assembly overhaul and repair, and PPG established PPG Aerospace Materials (Tianjin) Co. Ltd. in the Tianjin Airport Economic Area in 2010.
Reactive Surfaces, Austin, Texas, has been selected from over 70 aerospace companies as one of ten finalists for the 2012 New Space business plan competition by the Space Frontier Foundation, for its submission of a project concept company called ExoCoat, which is devoted to marketing the parent company’s bio-based functional additives and coatings to the aerospace and space communities.
Founded in 1988, the Space Frontier Foundation is an advocacy organization committed to an expanded permanent human presence in space. Through a series of prizes awarded to entrepreneurial organizations, such as its $100,000 first-place prize for the best business plan for a space-industry enterprise, the Space Frontier Foundation is helping to transform the notion of space being the exclusive domain of governments to that of a widely accessible market ripe with opportunity for entrepreneurial companies.
“We have long had an interest in expanding our technology into materials used in construction and maintenance of aerospace surfaces," said Reactive Surfaces’ CIO Steve McDaniel. "We are honored that ExoCoat has been selected as a finalist in the NewSpace2012 business plan competition.”
Functional coatings add significant dynamic capability to aerospace surfaces, and they do so without any weight penalty or changes to the specifications of existing coatings into which they are placed. In many cases, such as bio-based biocides that help to keep aerospace cabin surfaces free of microbes, functional coatings reduce the amount and weight of equipment and other materials designed to keep such closed loop systems microbe-free.
Other functional coatings that will be of particular relevance in the space environment that are commercially ready or that are on the Reactive Surfaces‘ drawing board include self-cleaning surfaces, self-degreasing surfaces, anti-allergenic surfaces, anti-viral surfaces, de-odorizing surfaces, air freshening/quality surfaces, toxin-removing surfaces, environmental safety monitoring surfaces and radiation damage-repairing materials.
For more information watch, “Smart Coatings on Spacecraft Surfaces” SETI Talks online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkSS07hsMAk.
Alion Science and Technology, an employee-owned, engineering, R&D, IT and operational solutions company, provided a protective coating to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon capsule for its first flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Alion applied a conductive thermal control coating to the Dragon Trunk, the cargo portion of the Dragon spacecraft. Since shipping aerospace hardware to a stationary coatings facility can often be difficult, costly and time-consuming, Alion engineers developed a portable coatings application system that can be easily transported. Using this new system, Alion's experts sprayed protective coatings onsite at SpaceX facilities.
"We are excited to support such an important test mission that could radically impact the way cargo is delivered to the International Space Station," said Chris Amos, Alion Senior vice president and manager of the Technology Solutions Group. "Alion chemists pioneered the development of unique materials to protect aerospace components, and now our portable application system is a cost- and time-saving alternative to shipping components to our coatings lab. It's a game-changing solution that can help make the entire launch preparation process more efficient."
Alion has been developing and applying aerospace coatings on government and commercial satellites and spacecraft since the early days of the U.S.-Russia space race the company said.