Plastic Media Blasting Technology ensures safe paint removal

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
A new process in the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group uses plastic media blasting technology as another way to remove underlying material on aircraft parts during programmed depot maintenance at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex .

The robotics technology began operations Sept. 22 and will fall under the 571st Production Support Squadron, which stood up Oct. 1.

Several F-15 stabilizers have already been 'blasted', paving the way for additional workload on other weapon systems currently undergoing PDM here.
Using a medium that resembles tiny, plastic, grit-like beads, a robot sprays the material directly onto an aircraft surface.

For an F-15 stab, the amount of power used is 40 pounds per square inch. The low pressure enables each of the robot's three nozzles to spray out 400 pounds of plastic media an hour.

"Every media impacts the surface differently. The ability to control that pressure, as well as the impact of the media itself, is one of the reasons why we're using plastic," said Jason Koehler, 402nd CMXG chief engineer.

As the robot's nozzle makes contact with the surface, it covers about 3 inches at a time. It slows as it moves over areas that have more layers of paint.
The entire process is controlled by a person in a booth.

This new capability has the group excited about the possibilities of the future, particularly when it comes to operator advantages of working in that controlled booth versus manual blasting.
"Not only are we speeding this process up, but operators don't need eye or ear protection or other personal protective equipment," said Koehler.

When operators would suit up with PPE, the manual process could take a full shift of eight hours.

With this new process, there's potential to reduce that time to three to four hours. Another advantage is the ability to see closer to the surface using computer screens, enabling operators more control over the process.

While somewhat similar to flash jet equipment, which uses bursts of white light to strip paint, PMB is more abrasive and doesn't essentially burn off material.

Also, the entire chamber which uses PMB is one big vacuum, enabling PMB beads to be reused several times. How many times will continue to be measured.

"This hits all the factors we try to satisfy with safety, quality, cost and being on schedule," Carol Pagura, the squadron's director, said. "Plus, we're not as subject to human error as with manual labor. With this process we tend to get a better quality product."

According to Koehler, this project was one of the oldest capital investment programs at Robins, due to construction and funding.
"It was a big win for us to finally get this system up and running," he said.