The depainting dilemma

The Depainting Dilemma Environmental regulations are forcing paint facilities to switch products By Shanin C. Pepple March 1998 With environmental regulations on paint strippers looming in the near future, paint facilities across...


Svoboda claims that a lot of environmentally-friendly strippers aren't as effective as methylene chloride, especially on corporate aircraft, because of its paint thickness. He says that the airlines and the military don't have the same problems removing paint with environmentally friendly strippers because the paint is not as thick. "One problem with companies that are promoting new products and the people testing them, is that all the testing is being done on commercial and military aircraft, and these aircraft have very thin paint thickness.

"Environmentally-safe products don't work on the majority of our airplanes. At this time. The problem with aircraft is that on on most corporate jets, the mil thickness of the paint is too great," he states.

As a result of the paint thickness, the paint removal process can damage the aircraft. Svoboda continues, "The problem is that the mil thickness of the paint is not the same throughout the aircraft, so you get a lot of areas that will strip and then some areas that won't strip. And then you have to do a lot of mechanical sanding and you end up removing material from the aircraft." He says that by sanding, the integrity of the skin could be sacrificed.

Besides damaging the aircraft, Svoboda says that some strippers, particularly those that are acid based, can damage the facility and cause harm to workers. He claims that steel grates and concrete floors can begin to deteriorate over time.

Gregg adds that they were originally concerned about the possible effects of environmentally friendly strippers. "We were leery of it to begin with because we were concerned with areas such as the composite and the acrylic windows, etc., but methylene chloride stripper, after it was on for a while, would have the tendency to lift the protective tapes and coverings that were on those areas. Whereas, this doesn't seem to attack the tapes and protective coverings to the point where it lifts and would allow exposure to the chemicals. We were a little hesitant about that because naturally we didn't want to damage the customer's property. But we found that not to be a problem," he says.

While many painting facilities are dreading the day when they are forced to stop using methylene chloride-based strippers, Gregg says that some of the negative reactions are just in anticipation of change. "From my experience here — I've been doing this for 24 years — no one really wanted to make the change even though they knew they had to; it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Everybody is hesitant of change of any type and it's really hard trying to make somebody understand that you can leave that chemical on there for that long without damaging the aircraft. (Some of the environmentally friendly strippers) don't have as devastating of an effect on the areas that you are not trying to strip as you would anticipate it to because you are so used to using a methylene chloride-type stripper."

Facilities are still waiting for an environmentally friendly stripper that performs as well as methylene chloride, but most agree that the quality and efficiency of the alternatives is getting better. "I don't think any of the nonmethylene chloride strippers worked real well to begin with," Gregg says. "But like any other technology, it advances and gets better every day."

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