November 14, 2016

AFRL-led aircraft coating project awarded as top-100 innovative technology

Holly Jordan
Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

An environmentally-safer aircraft primer project, led by the Air Force Research Lab’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate and PPG, has been awarded as of the 100 most innovative technologies of 2016.

The PPG Aerocron® 2100 Electrocoat Primer team was honored with the 2016 R&D 100 Award in the Mechanical Devices/Materials category. This award is presented annually by R&D Magazine and is considered one of the most prestigious honors for scientific and technological innovation.

The Aerocron® Electrocoat primer is unique in that it is a water-based, chrome-free primer that offers protection comparable to chrome-based coatings, while at the same time curing at a lower temperature than conventional automotive and industrial electrocoats, making it possible to electrocoat aluminum alloys without affecting their temper. In other words, the aluminum can be coated effectively with corrosion-preventive primer while retaining the same physical properties as before the coating.

The curing of this primer is achieved much faster than with traditionally-used primers, saving three to six hours over the current spray application process. Also, automated application ensures uniform coating thickness. This consistent primer application translates into overall weight savings, as aircraft parts are only coated with the prescribed amount of corrosion-preventive material, with no excessive coating.

In nominating the AFRL and PPG team for the award, R&D Magazine also recognized the coating as a “Green Technology.” Chromium-based substances are listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of industrial toxic chemicals that are targeted for voluntary reduction or elimination. A Department of Defense policy directive restricts the use of these products on military vehicles and weapon systems because of potential health hazards to humans.

Test specimens are prepared for coating with the Aerocron® 2100 Electrocoat Primer during a recent demonstration at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This water-based, chrome-free primer offers protection comparable to chrome-based coatings, while curing at a lower temperature than conventional automotive and industrial Electrocoats, making it possible to electrocoat aluminum alloys without affecting their physical properties.

“We are very proud of this effort,” said AFRL program manager William Hoogsteden.  “Electrocoat coatings have been successfully used in many industries for over 50 years, but we’ve taken that environmentally-friendly technology a step further with new chemistry that allows it to be used on aircraft aluminum. This process is especially effective for off-aircraft, complex-shaped parts, which are typically difficult to coat evenly.”

The Aerocron® Electrocoat Primer was initially evaluated under a congressional interest item managed by AFRL. As a follow-on effort, a demonstration/validation program was funded by the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program and initially led by the US Naval Air Systems Command. This program was then taken over by the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate in 2012. The AFRL team is currently conducting training and demonstrations of the system for Air Force bases across the country.

The process is also set up at the US Coast Guard Rework Facility and at several aircraft manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe. AFRL is working with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to collect additional data and determine Airworthiness Certification.

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Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Pedro Mota

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