RUAG Australia, formerly Rosebank Engineering, has successfully won a Capability Technology Demonstrator (CTD) grant from the Commonwealth of Australia for laser cladding repair technology.
Laser cladding is an innovative processing technique used for repairing metal structures. A stream of powder is fed into a focused laser beam as it is scanned across the target surface, leaving behind a deposited coating of the feed stock material that is fused to the substrate. The required geometry is built up layer by layer to create the required nett shape.
This technology yields high quality depositions with high bond strength and has been proven to be effective at restoring damaged components and structures to aircraft including the F/A-18.
Neil Matthews, who is the Head of Research and Technology at RUAG Australia, said because RUAG worldwide is an authorised service centre for so many aircraft manufacturers, the soon-to-be-patented technology will reduce the cost of ownership in terms of component maintenance and improve aircraft availability.
“Here in Australia we are leading the world in restoring and rebuilding damaged metal. Our forerunner of this technology, Supersonic Particle Deposition, is another direct metal deposition technology but it has limitations. This new technology gives us a much more complete capability to restore all metals.”
Saving money a key benefit
The US Department of Defense estimates its cost of metal corrosion is around $US30B a year. On Australian aircraft this is about $A240M a year. Current metal repair technologies, such as welding, either are unsuitable for aerospace applications or require external reinforcement such as external patch/plate repairs. In many instances the only option is replacement. Laser technology enables restoration of the original material so that it can continue to meet its design performance.
“This laser repair technology allows defence organisations and industry to save a great deal of money by rebuilding damaged metal and maintaining equipment availability. While a defence funded project, the technology will also have application in the road, rail, mining and marine industries.”
Whilst this is a two-year program, RUAG is planning to have the capability established within 12 months. The challenge is then to have it accepted under airworthiness regulations for application on aircraft, which involves extensive testing to ensure it is safe.
It will be very important technology for the F35 Joint Strike Fighter program, for which RUAG is a key supplier.
RUAG’s Australian Research and Technology Department works with three universities on the technology — Swinburne, RMIT and Monash, and is the additive manufacturing technology lead for the RUAG group worldwide, which comprises 7000 people.