SwRI Laser Coating Removal Robot Wins Innovation Award

The laser coating removal robot, developed by Southwest Research Institute and XYREC, uses intelligent process monitoring to precisely and safely remove paint and other coatings from full-body aircraft. Photo courtesy of SwRI.

A laser coating removal (LCR) robot by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) (San Antonio, Texas, USA) was recently recognized by R&D World magazine as one of the 100 most significant innovations of 2020. The robot was developed by SwRI and XYREC (San Antonio, Texas, USA).

According to SwRI, the LCR is the only robotic aircraft coating removal process that can cover the full range of aircraft sizes, coatings, colors, and substrates on a broad range of defense and commercial aircraft, from fighter jets and helicopters to cargo-sized aircraft.

“The technology is unique, fast, and more environmentally friendly than traditional processes,” says Paul Evans, a director in SwRI’s intelligent systems division. “LCR uses the largest specialized commercially available CO2 laser on the largest mobile manipulator to accurately control the coating removal process.”

The LCR robot uses intelligent process monitoring to precisely and safely remove the topcoat only or individual coatings. Controlled by a proprietary computer vision system with a patented polygon scanner, the robot uses a CO2 laser to evaporate and combust paint. Effluent is immediately vacuumed from the surface and passed through a filtration system.

A built-in, closed-loop, color recognition and control system allows it to strip both metal and composite surfaces accurately, making selective stripping possible. Software guides the robot, allowing LCR to closely follow the three-dimensional contour of an aircraft. The fully autonomous system can be managed by a single operator. It can also work independently or in tandem with another LCR.

“Coating removal is a critical and necessary operation needed for all aircraft at multiple times over the service life of an aircraft,” says Steve Dellenback, vice president of SwRI’s intelligent systems division. “We worked closely with XYREC to develop this innovative system.”

The LCR system can shorten processing time by as much as 80%, drastically reducing cost-per aircraft, minimizing reliance on support facilities and reducing aircraft down time. It is compatible with all types of aircraft and helicopters and can also be used to remove coatings from a wide range of off-airframe parts.

“XYREC is very pleased with the hard work done by Southwest Research Institute and is looking forward to entering into the aerospace market with the unique machine,” says Peter Boeijink, president and CEO of XYREC Inc.

Since 1963, the R&D 100 Awards have honored each year’s top 100 revolutionary technologies. Recipients hail from research institutions, academic and government laboratories, Fortune 500 companies, and smaller organizations.

Source: SwRI, www.swri.org.