A team of materials engineers from the Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) recently reached out to their Coast Guard colleagues to help solve a puzzling organic coating removal problem.
FRCE’s Materials Engineering division is responsible for materials and processes that affect aircraft surfaces, such as bonding, painting, stripping, and preventing corrosion. Engineers typically support aircraft maintainers at FRCE production shops or at Navy or Marine Corps fleet units around the world. Recently, engineering personnel at the U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center (ALC) in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, contacted the FRCE for assistance with removing organic coatings from aircraft parts. plane.
ALC’s environmental processes permit the use of certain chemical strippers to remove coatings from aircraft parts, but they have not always been effective in chemically removing coatings from parts. To further complicate the issue, service manuals state that other paint removal methods like sandblasting or grit blasting cannot be used on parts that require non-destructive inspections for cracks after stripping, according to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Hayward Workman, Industrial Operations Division Technical Support Division Chief. .
“Often the technical manuals we use only mention chemical stripping, which means we can’t use sanding, because you don’t want to remove any material. You don’t want to blast with a plastic backing because it can leave traces of the coating and backing, which can set in and reduce the detection of cracks or flaws in the part,” Workman said. “Chemical stripping was the only way to remove the coating and comply with procedures, but that was impossible with the kind of strippers that were available at ALC. That’s when I asked FRCE for help.
Workman contacted Chris Gladson, FRCE’s Materials and Processes branch manager, for suggestions on how to resolve this dilemma. Gladson invited Workman and his team to tour FRCE’s paint stripping facilities and brainstorm solutions to the Coast Guard’s problem. FRCE and ALC used similar methods of paint stripping, but differences in Coast Guard and Navy regulations allowed FRCE craftsmen to generate a higher throughput than those of ALC, a said Gladson.
FRCE has a long history of environmental stewardship, and its aircraft maintenance policies and procedures reflect this commitment to environmental compliance. Workman presented the information he received at FRCE to ALC’s safety and engineering teams to substantiate the conclusion that more aggressive stripping agents could be used safely and effectively to remove the toughest coatings. pieces. ALC has adopted safety procedures and equipment similar to those used at FRCE to ensure that stripping agents are used in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.
“We’ve set up ventilated booths and containment areas to capture the most aggressive stripper so it can be sent out for safe disposal,” Workman said. “We use the mildest chemicals when we can, but we have two designated booths available when the coatings require the harshest chemical to remove.”
In the time it took to establish the new procedures and acquire the necessary equipment, Workman said the Coast Guard facility developed a backlog of more than 60 pieces that needed to be chemically stripped before they could be inspected. and repaired at ALC. Once again, FRCE was able to help by helping ALC catch up with demand.
Linda Holton, FRCE Workload Acceptance Directorate Business Office Operations Specialist, works as a liaison between the FRCE and fleet units that may require her services in a manner unexpected. She helped the ALC get help from the FRCE for the pending parts.
“Although the FRCE workload is planned well in advance, sometimes a unit in the fleet will require urgent assistance. That’s when they contacted us,” Holton said. “Our team communicates with planners and supervisors to ensure emerging parts can fit into regular scheduled work. We take great satisfaction in helping fleet units when they need us most. »
Gladson said FRCE’s Small Clean Shop was able to prioritize the Coast Guard’s workload and help get it back on track.
“We had three or four craftsmen from our paint stripping shop working on these parts as they came in, and a few engineers and myself were involved as well,” Gladson said. “The additional manpower has helped Coast Guard personnel clear the backlog efficiently. We were really happy to be able to help.
Both Workman and Gladson said the benefits of cooperation between Coast Guard and Navy depots go beyond a one-time project, as each facility can learn from the other.
“Recently, when we run into issues or try something new, I can contact Materials and Process Management, and FRC already has the procedures and experienced what we’re going through,” Workman said. “The team walked us through how they do it and let us look at their local procedures. Basically, it saves us from having to start from scratch seeing what works for them.
Gladson agreed that the relationship had been mutually beneficial.
“In the engineering world, we talk about having communities of interest,” Gladson said. “We’ve been able to add the Coast Guard to our community of interest, whether it’s corrosion technologies, paint stripping, or paints in general. It’s good to have those contacts, so they can provide us with information and we can provide them with information.
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest provider of maintenance, repair, overhaul, and technical services, with more than 4,000 civilian, military, and contract workers. Its annual turnover exceeds 1 billion dollars. The depot provides services to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the larger United States Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander of Fleet Readiness Centers.