News | June 15, 2009

ManTech Effort Facilitates Production of Aircraft Coating Technology

By Heyward Burnett Materials & Manufacturing Directorate

Thanks to an AFRL Manufacturing Technology effort, there now exists a newly established process for producing pigments and nanolayer thin films on a large-scale, continuous basis. These products, which are used in aircraft surface coatings, play a role in improved aircraft survivability and also contribute to lighter-weight paints and more efficient antenna designs. Paint designs employing thin film technology are up to 35% lighter than conventional paints and are expected to save billions in life-cycle costs as a result of this reduced weight. Meanwhile, antenna designs based on thin films have achieved smaller sizes (reductions of 6-10 times) and larger gains (increases of 10-15 dB).

While high-performance coatings require concise thickness control at the nanometer/micron level, current batch processes supporting transition of these coatings are prohibitive in terms of cost and throughput. Unfortunately, no manufacturing process previously existed for preparing these films--based on metal, ceramic, and polymer distinctions--on a continuous, industrial scale.

AFRL Senior Materials Engineer Mr. Kenneth M. Johnson led the ManTech effort prompting establishment of the new capability. His contributions towards its development earned him the 2008 Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award. The program involved investments made to enhance several major areas related to producing advanced thin film coatings. AFRL-provided enhancements included increased web speeds, increased product quantity (without increased deposition time for roll width), greater throughput and higher capacity for thin film recovery equipment, and greater cross-web thickness control. The lab also supplied ultraviolet-cured polymers for the liquid roll coating process.

The new production process is currently producing paint for a Navy application, with two Army programs undergoing transition to production. In addition, the lightweight paint promising significantly reduced weight for various military platforms is also being postured for potential implementation.