|This electronic brochure highlights our
capabilities and activities in the area of Robotic Paint Stripping of Aircraft.
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Southwest Research Institute.
Robotic Paint Stripping of Aircraft
Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) installed the worlds
first automated aircraft paint stripping system at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, for
the U.S. Air Forces Wright Laboratories Repair Technology (REPTECH) Program. The
Robotic Paint Stripping Cell employs environmentally friendly, non-chemical plastic media
blasting, suited to the delicate aluminum and composite materials common to military
aircraft surfaces. Conventional paint stripping uses volatile chemicals and manual labor
and creates large volumes of industrial waste.
The robotic system improves worker health and safety conditions
by eliminating exposure to dust-laden air, avoiding elevated work platforms, and reducing
fatiguing operations. In addition to the elimination of hazardous waste as a process
by-product, labor savings and other indirect cost savings are projected to amount to
thousands of dollars per aircraft.
SwRI developed the two-robot, fully automated work cell using
modern process feedback and motion control technology. The system has been placed in full
operation at the Hill Air Force Base Corrosion Control Facility, with the assistance of
the Aircraft Operations Division.
Development of the system required a multidisciplinary approach
drawing on a variety of SwRI technical specialties, including:
- Sensor Technology
- Training Systems
Because conventional robots could not manipulate paint
stripping blast nozzles along the complex contours of military fighter aircraft, SwRI
developed robots of unique kinematic design. Coordinated six-degree-of-freedom arms
operate from 20-foot columns on folding supports, which allowed the robots to fit in an
existing facility equipped for plastic media recovery with minimal modifications.
Interactive Training Systems
The Institute developed a Digital Video InteractiveŠ
(DVI) computer training system to educate operator and maintenance personnel in a
mistake-tolerant environment before final training on the actual system. The trainer has
control buttons identical to those in the actual robotic system, and motion commands are
displayed on a computer screen. Student progress is documented by automated testing and
The systems two robots operate independently
with their own multi-axis control systems, their actions coordinated by a remote cell
computer serving as the primary operator interface for the system. From a protected area
isolated from the blasting, technicians use computers and their own knowledge of paint
stripping to adjust the automated process.
This brochure was published in May 1994. For more information
about robotic paint stripping of aircraft, contact
Paul Evans, Automation and Data Systems Division, Southwest Research
Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510, Phone (210)
Aircraft paint thickness and conditions vary widely
and cannot be determined except as the paint is removed. SwRI developed a special sensor
(U.S. Patent No. 5,038,038) to provide feedback to the robot motion controls based on the
light reflected from the aircraft surface. Using this information, the robot controller
maintains the optimum nozzle speed to remove the paint completely without overblasting the
Automation and Data Systems Division Brochures