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Automated aircraft inlet coating

Description:

OBJECTIVE: Develop an automated system/method to apply coatings in aircraft inlets that have complex geometries. The trade-offs between cycle time, cost, accuracy, reliability, and complexity should be considered while developing a solution to the objective. DESCRIPTION: Many high performance aircraft inlets are designed with complex geometries and require specialty coatings of exact thickness to meet design requirements. During production, aircraft manufacturers typically apply inlet coatings to the duct prior to assembly. Often final assembly requires permanent bonding or fastening of the duct to the fuselage and thus future disassembly is not possible. Between overhauls, i.e. in the field, coatings often need to be replaced, thereby increasing aircraft downtime. An automated coating application capability is needed that can apply coatings in an engine inlet duct with high precision while on an aircraft. In service, the engine inlet coatings life can be shortened by foreign object damage. Between overhauls, i.e. in the field, this damage needs to be repaired, thereby increasing aircraft downtime. Currently, aircraft engine inlet coatings are sprayed manually when being restored in the field or depot. This requires a maintainer to climb into a confined space carrying all necessary equipment and supply lines while donning a significant amount of personal protective equipment (PPE). A significant number of hazards exist for workers in such conditions and the variability of applied coatings is increased due to these constraints. Therefore, the proposer of a solution to this problem is asked to develop an automated system/method to apply coatings in assembled aircraft inlets that have complex geometries. The automated application technology must be able to apply coatings at exact thicknesses, which varies from location to location in an inlet duct. In order to avoid the undesirable variability of thickness that can occur with hand spraying, this effort should leverage recent developments of in-situ, non-contact thickness monitoring of coatings as well as work done in determination of the location as to where the coating is delivered. The ability to re-coat an entire inlet as well as repair small areas or strips of damage is desired. The automated system must not damage the structure of the aircraft. A fielded automated coating system may need to be used in a fueled environment. Expedient repairs are desirable to return the aircraft to service as quickly as possible. To that end, inlet coating may be best accomplished with the engine removed. A submitter is asked to consider the time lines associated with engine removal versus ease of application and determine the best strategy. PHASE I: Determine if an automated inlet coating system is feasible. Describe the proposed method/system and operational requirements. Consider two designs: one that is used in a depot environment and one that it is forward deployed. The trade-offs between cycle time, cost, accuracy, reliability, and complexity should be considered in the analysis. PHASE II: Conduct a demonstration under depot-like conditions with the proposed automated inlet coating system on a small-scale inlet duct. Demonstrate the ability to deliver differing prescribed amounts of coating at various locations within a contorted shape, to be defined by the Air Force, of approximately 72"x 36"x 18". Refine the analysis of cycle time, cost, accuracy, reliability, complexity, and operational requirements for the two designs. PHASE III: Expand system capability so it could be used at forward deployments. Demonstrate or propose design changes so it could support multiple platforms, i.e. aircraft with small duct sizes or open inlets. Propose design changes that would enable the system to do automated sanding of the applied coatings. REFERENCES: 1. http://usmilitary.about.com/od/airforceenlistedjobs/a/afjob2a7x3.htm. 2. http://www.holloman.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123279167.
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