Advanced science.  Applied technology.


Laser Coating Removal Robot Earns 2020 R&D 100 Award

Commercializing new technology is always exciting, especially after years of research and development. SwRI and XYREC have been diligently developing a robot-guided laser coating removal solution for stripping paint and other coatings from aircraft and aerospace components. We are pleased to announce that the Laser Coating Removal Robot (LCR) was recognized by R&D World magazine as one of the 100 most significant innovations of 2020. For those of you who are new to the R&D 100 Awards, they are widely known as the “Oscars of Innovation.”

Black and gold logo

LCR Blends Key Technologies

In the early days of LCR development, a staff member commented to me: “What could be better? One of the largest robots ever built, one of the highest-powered lasers, and a truly spectacular paint removal process, all rolled up into one.” That statement is still true today. The innovation truly blends key technologies and processes. Independently, they are interesting, but collectively they work together like nothing else for removing paint from the largest aircraft.

Blue robot comprised of two segments - the first is vertical with XYREC in white lettering; the second is horizontal to the ground with a laser attached. The robot is using a laser to remove an aircraft coating

LCR uses the largest specialized commercially available CO2 laser on the largest mobile manipulator.

Pairing CO2 Laser with Computer Vision

Key to the LCR is the coupling of the laser removal process with a robotic system. A traditional off-the-shelf robot cannot deliver this unique solution, and thus the robot is uniquely designed to transport the laser beam out to the end of the robot. The LCR utilizes a purpose-built CO2 laser system controlled by a proprietary closed-loop, computer vision-based system and includes an innovative “scanner” to sweep the laser over the surface of the aircraft. Intelligent process monitoring and control precisely and safely remove coatings layer by layer. The technology is unique, fast, and more environmentally friendly than traditional processes.

Close up view of CO2 laser evaporating paint from an aircraft

A CO2 laser evaporates and combusts paint. Effluent is vacuumed and filtered.

Over the course of the R&D effort, 115 SwRI employees played a role in LCR. Additionally, the XYREC leadership and a host of their suppliers supported a range of equally important efforts. Some had small roles to play, and others had larger technical leadership roles, yet collectively each part represented a significant achievement. Thank you to each person who supported the effort. Visit the Press Release for more information. The video and photos, in many ways, speak for themselves. Enjoy!