Many of the world’s aerospace systems are approaching middle-age. Like many middle-aged things, some “tweaks” and repairs have become necessary. However, even as metal components and panels wear out, business economics drives extended use. These needs create a challenging problem for aerospace companies to solve while considering property and personnel safety.
How can one continue operating aging aerospace equipment safely? What about the need for reliability in safety-critical parts? New components and panels typically replace these same parts during significant overhauls. But those replacements can be costly.
Find out how Mid-America Aerotech can provide faster, market-competitive, and safer aerotech repairs using advanced Cold Spray technology. Contact us and discover why more aerospace companies choose Mid-America Aerotech.
What Is Cold Spray Technology?
Supersonic deposition, or cold spray technology, also known as “3D painting,” is a material-deposition, additive manufacturing process.
Cold spray involves a high-pressure, low-heat spraying process.
Metal particles sized between 10 and 50 microns are shot at high velocity onto a substrate using a (slightly) heated high-velocity gas stream.
Heated gas (typically helium or nitrogen) shoots through a supersonic de Laval nozzle which accelerates the gas several times the speed of sound. Simultaneously, metal or metal alloy particles feed into the stream, so they are also heated and sped up to supersonic velocities. These velocities range from 500 to 1000 meters per second (or 1100 to 2200 mph).
How can the cold spray process be considered “cold” since the gas stream is heated? The cold spray process occurs at a temperature significantly below the metal particles’ melting point or the substrate of the component. It also is a lot colder than thermal spray processes.
When the gas stream hits the substrate, there is enough kinetic energy to bond the metal particles with the substrate. Aerospace components are repaired, mainly without the need for cutting and joining. Cold spray aerospace repairs will not disturb the mechanical or metallurgical properties of the component.
This additive manufacturing process strengthens and repairs the surface of the metal component. It does so without creating a heat-affected zone that could occur during welding or high-temperature thermal spray.
The cold spray repair process is a cost-effective, environmentally-acceptable technology providing surface protection to metals. It is also a method used for restoring components and panels that aerospace companies would have typically removed from service. The cold spray process capably converts the components to their original blueprint dimensions.
Addressing Challenges In Aerospace Repairs
Aging Aircraft Fleets
In today’s economy, aerospace companies increasingly seek to update existing air fleets rather than purchase new craft. With the need to continue operating aging aircraft safely, safe, reliable, life-extending strategies are required. Repairing rather than replacing mission-critical components is much more environmentally-friendly and less expensive.
Corroded & Damaged Metal & Alloy Components
Despite the increasing use of composites in newly built aircraft, metal alloys are still ubiquitous.
The aerospace industry makes extensive use of alloy components with aluminum, magnesium, and titanium. Cold spray repairs aerospace components, such as blades, gearboxes, rotors, shafts, and propellers.
The aerospace and aerospace repair industry’s continuing reliance on metal parts means alloys are of critical importance in the aerospace industry, at least for the foreseeable future.
Aerospace companies couldn’t reclaim many of these components until recently because no technology could restore or improve them adequately enough for service.
Overcoming These Challenges In Aerospace Repairs
How can the challenges of aging aerospace fleets and corroded metal alloy components be overcome?
The development of an environmentally sound, relatively inexpensive, reliable, and safe repair technology is the answer.
Cold Spray Technology Is Literally “Reshaping” Repair Strategies
The cold spray process provides a significant return on investment. This process increases in-service life and offers the ability to reclaim precious components.
Cold spray technology can restore parts using similar materials to the substrate. This technology enables the repairs to blend in and mirror the properties of the original component.
Not only is this pleasing aesthetically, but it also extends the lifespan of the part by years, ultimately providing improved customer value. Corrosion- or wear-resistant material can increase repair intervals if desired.
Cold Spray Technology Offers Several Advantages
The issue with aerospace repairs lies in the types of metal alloys used in the aerospace industry. Aluminum, magnesium, and titanium alloys have shown high sensitivity levels to elevated temperatures. Also, they are sensitive to oxidation and the effects of heating and cooling the material quickly.
Cold spray technology does not require as much heat as welding, for example. Cold spray allows a repaired component to be restored very close, if not entirely, to its original condition. Since cold spray operates below most metals’ melting point, there is very little concern for melting the substrate or causing heat-affected areas.
Cold spray is also preferable because it doesn’t incorporate any combustible fuels or gases in its bonding process. This lack of combustible materials makes the process much more environmentally-friendly than other repair processes.
Cold spray technology goes a long way toward reducing the usage of hazardous and environmentally unsafe processes. These dangerous processes include hard anodizing and chromate conversion. In turn, this reduction reduces the harmful impact on the environment and workers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Cold Spray Can Handle Large Parts Better Than Powder-Bed Additive Manufacturing
Cold spray technologies are particularly suitable for repairing large structures. Large structures can cause problems in powder-bed additive manufacturing processes due to the equipment’s size limitations.
The cold spray process can scale up to repair or build more significant parts. Cold spray systems are highly portable. Repair personnel can move them to allow the coating of large areas or significant components.
Cold Spray And The Future Of Aerospace Repairs
Cold spray technology has been successfully adapted for aerospace repairs and has consistently achieved outstanding results.
The aerospace and aerospace repairs industry can now take advantage of the benefits of cold spray technology.
Mid-America Aerotech is a certified FAA repair station located in West Fargo, North Dakota. Our team services the military, aerospace, commercial industries, and helicopters, and privately-owned airplanes. We offer cold spray repairs, production, and material testing. Contact us today for your aerospace repairs.