March 14, 2018

Travis tests lasers to fight corrosion

Staff Sgt. Amber Carter
Travis AFB, Calif.

Airman 1st Class Levi Gordon, 60th Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance, uses a Clean Laser 1000 to remove paint from a sheet of metal March 7 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The 1000-watt laser can remove paint and corrosion. It reduces the waste created from sanding paint by 90 percent Travis was chosen as one of two bases to test the capabilities of the laser.

As Air Mobility Command continues to answer the secretary of the Air Force’s call for innovation, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., looks toward the future by making innovative use of lasers in the 60th Maintenance Squadron, increasing efficiency.

The 60th MXS is one of only two bases chosen to test the Clean Laser 1000 and the Clean Laser 300 as a new way to remove paint and corrosion on aerospace ground equipment.

“The main difference with this laser is that it can remove corrosion without removing metal,” said Tech. Sgt. Brian Brown, 60th MXS aircraft structural maintenance corrosion manager. “Sanding and grinding remove additional material while the laser burns off corrosion without taking any metal with it.”

This important difference creates a safer and more efficient way to navigate deep-rooted corrosion in equipment.

“We cannot use paint remover, so we have to use sanders,” said Senior Airman Troy Chuckran, 60th MXS aircraft structural maintenance journeyman. “When you are sanding, you can’t always tell how much paint material you are removing and you tend to blend the crack, which causes the severity of the corrosion to be covered up and be discovered by the (Non-Destructive Inspection team). With the lasers, you’re not removing surface or polishing the surface, you are only removing paint and corrosion.”

Another improvement is a decrease in the amount of waste by using a laser versus a hand sander.

“Our traditional method is to use an orbital sander or blasting machine,” said Brown. “For the orbital sander, you have to be suited up in a full Tyvek suit, full face respirator, force air respirator and nitrile gloves.”

Tests were performed to ensure the correct personal protection equipment is worn.

Kathy Fruits, 60th Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance, uses a sander to remove paint March 7 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The suit is completely air sealed and hooked up to oxygen in order to protect her from harmful paint chemicals that are released during the sanding process. The suit is not needed while using the Clean Laser due to the reduction of sawdust and airborne debris.

“We did a week’s worth of testing to determine what type of PPE is needed while using the laser,” said Chuckran. “We had to be fully suited up, we took air samples and used the laser to collect data while testing the air quality to make sure we are safe.”

The tests resulted in another improvement when compared to the hand sanders.

“Now we don’t wear the Tyvek suit,” said Chuckran. “All we need are specialized glasses, hearing protection and gloves. It’s a major improvement especially in the summer when the Tyvek suit becomes a sauna suit.”

The lasers are currently being used on all support equipment for the airframes at Travis, such as air conditioning units, hydraulic carts and the -86 power generator, which provides power to the aircraft. These same tests are currently being performed on old panel from a C-5M Super Galaxy.

“I see the lasers as the future of removing paint and corrosion,” said Chuckran. “It will definitely have a huge impact once we can begin using them on the aircraft.”

Travis continues to show leadership in AMC innovation, as March 5-7 the base hosted representatives from each major command in the U.S. Air Force for an innovation summit focusing on the implementation of the Air Force’s innovation ecosystem at various bases across the Air Force.

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