Aircraft Coatings

New technologies in coatings and equipment

With Earth Day being in April, it’s fitting to look at the advances in aerospace coating technology and the equipment needed to apply them and how they reduce the environmental impact for the industry.

Coatings manufacturers such as Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings and AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings are continually updating their products to match industry needs and environmental regulations.

While the industry isn’t reluctant to change, it needs to know that a product is worthy of its adoption. Product development and testing reflects this, as it may take up to three to five years to develop a product and then have OEMs test it to ensure it meets qualifications.

Coatings and equipment advances are being introduced that meet Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and other safety regulations.

According to J. Marc Taylor, Sherwin-Williams director of sales, the theme for coatings manufacturers is to eliminate chrome, as well as, design coatings that allow maintenance repair operations (MROs) to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and harmful emissions.

“A manufacturer has to understand the marketplace and then try to predict what will be needed and listen to what customers are asking for,” Taylor says. “The core is to meet or exceed performance requirements and protect the assets,“ in this case aircraft.

Some of the new products reduce steps in the painting process, some reduce the time it takes, and some do both. A new primer/surfacer from Sherwin-Williams can be used as a primer and then as a surfacer, eliminating unused product that needs to be discarded. The smooth surface during application often eliminates sanding and the need for a coating between the primer and topcoat. The quicker dry time allows sanding four hours after application, enabling the same crew to accomplish both tasks during the same shift.

The traditional aerospace decorative coatings typically last five to six years, while the new technologies wil increase appearance longevity beyond that. Although maintenance requirements may include inspection for corrosion before the coating has reached its lifespan.

European influences
One of regulations concerning European coatings manufacturers is REACH. The European Community regulation focuses on chemicals and their safe use (EC 1907/2006). REACH stands for registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemical substances. The information on chemicals and the risks they create will be gathered by manufacturers and then stored by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki. Professionals and consumers will be able to access the data which will include suitable alternatives. The goal is to phase the program in over 11 years. While it is similar to EPA standards, there are different classes of chemicals. (More information is available at

Equipment technology
Besides coating developments, companies are also offering advancements in equipment design.

Research and development company Battelle has created a portable painting system for aviation maintenance applications. The system allows technicians to paint in and around the aircraft without impacting repair or installation activities. It captures harmful vapors and contaminants released during the painting process by using activated carbon filters and then reuses the contaminants in an environmentally conscious process.

The portable painting system has been tested on the aft lower lobes and wheel wells of aircraft at Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center and the Ogden Air Logistics Center. It has improved the environmental impact by reducing the amount of materials needed and reduced hazardous waste.

The key to the system is the environmental control system. It features a three-stage NESHAP-compliant filters to capture particulates including chromates and VOCs. Safety features include a VOC gas monitor and chemical fire suppression.

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