Cover: Airframe Technology: Customer Focus on Coatings

May 12, 2010
From aircraft owners to maintenance facilities and the military paint manufacturers are answering market needs

Listening to customers is the first step in satisfying their needs. Saving time and money are usually at the top of the list. For maintenance facilities durability of the paint and a fast dry time means aircraft owners and maintenance crews both win. Developments in aircraft coatings allow aircraft to better withstand environmental conditions, and scheduling time is more flexible with reduced drying times.

"The driving factors of paint for an aircraft manufacturer or customer perspective are longevity — the ability to ensure paint adhesion that will last five to seven years — and quality that it will cover consistently from front to back," says Tom Heck, supervisor, sales and marketing at Wichita Cessna Citation Service Center. "There are so many variables that affect paint — heat, humidity, air pressure, and type of spray equipment that it is good to remove one factor, the chemical makeup of paint."

Other observations: "There is a trend away from earthy colors," Heck says, "and toward brighter, more vibrant colors and flowing design. Logos have been scaled back and there is an emphasis on clean, sharp lines."

"Customers are asking for green processes," says J. Marc Taylor, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace director of sales. "They need paints to cure in ambient-type conditions to reduce energy requirements, dry time, and repairability — to reduce the amount of time in the paint hangar."

Paint manufacturers Sherwin-Williams and Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings have both developed new products that meet these customer needs.

SKYscapes, a basecoat-clearcoat exterior paint system developed by Sherwin-Williams, delivers faster processing time, more color, and easier maintenance.

SKYscapes is a modified polyester topcoat applied using an innovative basecoat-clearcoat process in which all colors are applied as a basecoat. After the basecoat dries, the entire surface of the aircraft is sprayed with a clearcoat finish. Color coat dry time is approximately two hours, compared to six to 10 hours for other systems.

"The chemistry is in the can, and designed specifically for aerospace," says Taylor, "it allows faster dry time; another color can be applied in a couple hours which allows the use of multiple colors in one shift."

The system offers a longer recoat time of up to 72 hours, which means no sanding is required between coats.

"The 72-hour recoat window allows balancing resources and manpower from a business standpoint," Taylor states. "Repairs and multitasking can be done, and time over weekends won't affect the overall painting quality."

Julie Voisin, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace marketing manager, says the new paint is "easier to repair as the clear coat has no pigments so the color match is not affected."

The color pallete has been expanded with brighter hues, brighter reds, yellows and oranges, and more vibrant, cleaner blues. And the coatings have an extended life span as a protective layer is added. The denser color has added UV protection.

Akzo Nobel
Alumigrip Basecoat and Alumigrip Clearcoat are Akzo Nobel's latest entries into the general aviation and business aviation marketplace. The basecoat/clearcoat system is designed to reduce cycle times by up to 40 percent. Coverage requires fewer layers, thereby reducing application time.

"Traditionally paints used in the GA market were very slow drying in order to allow them to flow and achieve a smooth finish and high gloss," Andrew Richardson, global market director for Akzo Nobel, says. "This was OK when users did not have to turn around aircraft in production but this has changed as users try and increase turnaround in order to reduce costs and save time.

"Due to the fact that traditional aerospace products were slower drying, some users turned to automotive type paints in order to reduce process times," he says. While these products were quicker drying they weren't designed to cope with the flying conditions.

"The Alumigrip basecoat/clearcoat system solves these issues," Richardson says, "as it is specifically designed for the GA market with its superior gloss, distinctness of image, buffable, and ability to cope with the harsh environments found in the air or on aircraft. It has been designed to allow faster application of colors." It can be taped for masking or clearcoat application within two hours.

"Alumigrip will give users peace of mind," Richardson says. "It will be available from our distribution channels in the USA in June and will role out globally later in the year." A new color card will assist users and designers choose the colors and effects that best fit their needs.

Maybe the aircraft doesn't need an entire paint job, what then? Akzo Nobel and Andpak ( now offer burst packs that are designed for touchup repairs. Packs consist of two of more pouches that keep the base and hardener solutions separate until the coating is required. This reduces waste and reduces cost as there is easier storage and greater flexibility.

Not just for appearances
"Customers need to understand that maintaining a paint job on an aircraft is not like a car," Heck says. "Aircraft are more vulnerable to abrasion. Aircraft are more flexible, undergo a wider range of temperatures, and have to be resilient. Hand wiping an aircraft with a cloth can subject it to sand and debris that will affect the coating. It is best to do a fresh water wash. Besides paint being a beautification characteristic of an aircraft it is also a corrosion preventative, and it should be budgeted for to ensure the safety and longevity of the aircraft."

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Classroom and hands-on training
"Knowing how to properly apply the latest aerospace coatings plays a major role in the longevity and performance of any aircraft paint job," says Julie Voisin, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace marketing manager. "As a result, all paint shop personnel — from the newest technicians to the most seasoned supervisors — will benefit from continued learning about new technologies and products, new application and blending techniques, and steps to increase shop productivity.

"We try to optimize the best way of applying products in the specific conditions of each customer's unique environment," notes Voisin. Sherwin-Williams has a questionnaire that asks about shop conditions so its training classes held at its training center in Andover (Wichita), KS, are relevant and as productive as possible. Dates for the next classes are June 15 to 16, Sept. 14 to 15 and Nov. 16 to 17.

Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings also provides customized training. Topics include evolution of aerospace coatings, material handling and safety, coatings formulation, color, manufacturing, quality and continuous improvement, technologies of the future, and spray application.

"We offer global training at our facilities in Waukegan, IL; Sassenheim, the Netherlands; and Leicester, UK," says Andrew Richardson, global market director for Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings. "Akzo Nobel was the first in the market to offer training to both painters and engineers, whether they were directly involved in coatings or just wanted to expand their knowledge." A two-day advanced application hands-on course has been added recently and covers cleaning and preparing substrates, application techniques, and troubleshooting in the area of primers, topcoats, and specialty coatings. The training is designed to meet customer needs in OEM, MRO, general aviation, and military segments.

And then there is virtual training. Cessna has a virtual paint booth as a training aide which is a screen that projects the side of the aircraft, says Tom Heck, supervisor of sales and marketing for Wichita Cessna Citation Service Center. Technicians can use spray guns to mimic the paint application and learn how the guns handle and perform.

For more information:
Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings or

Cessna Citation Service Centers

Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings
(888) 888-5593

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Improving safety
Focusing on the customer means you can create some interesting products.

A "glow-in-the-dark" safety coating system is now available for the first time in the civilian aviation market. Sherwin-Williams AfterGlo, a photoluminescent coating system, makes the tips of aircraft propeller blades and helicopter main and tail rotors visible in dark and low-light operations, increasing the awareness and safety of nearby personnel in hangars, airstrips, and repair facilities.

The coating system was developed under a U.S. Naval Air Systems Command contract as a joint development between Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings and Defense Holdings Inc. (DHi) for use on aircraft on naval carriers.

The coating system allows personnel to avoid injury by inadvertently coming into contact with propeller blades, helicopter rotors, and other rotating objects in low light situations. Components with the coating "charge" in the sunlight and deliver, in the dark, a steady, eight-hour glow that's visible from up to 40 feet. The three-part system also provides excellent hardness and impact resistance. It is typically applied using a HVLP gravity feed gun.

"AfterGlo has much potential to improve safety at airports and helipads by increasing visibility of potentially hazardous moving parts in operations with little or no light," says J. Marc Taylor, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace director of sales. "While it does provide a visible safety mechanism when the aircraft is on the ground, the glowing propeller tips do not interfere with pilot visibility in the air because the glow is visible only from distances less than 40 feet away. This plays an important role in military applications, too, as it means enemy planes cannot see the paint glowing while the aircraft is in flight."