U.S.-Canadian Materials Collaboration to Save Millions and Help Preserve Environment

4/20/1999 - 18-99r
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The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) successfully negotiated a Project Arrangement (PA) between the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) which was signed by the Honorable H. Lee Buchanan, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, at a ceremony on March 31. Also in attendance at the signing ceremony were: Ms. Sherri Goodman, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security (DUSD-ES); Rear Admiral F.W. Gibson, Commander, Canadian Defence Liaison Staff, Washington; Mr. Michael Slack, Senior Policy Analyst for DND and the Canadian Technical Project Officer; and Mr. Bruce Sartwell, NRL Surface Chemistry Branch, who is the U.S. Technical Project Officer.

The objective of the project is to qualify high-velocity, oxygen-fuel (HVOF) thermal spray coatings as a viable replacement for hard chrome plating on military aircraft components, principally landing gear. "At the completion of this program, it is expected that HVOF thermal spray coatings will be in production in many manufacturing and maintenance activities in both the U.S. and Canada, resulting in both a cleaner environment and the savings of millions of dollars in maintenance costs," comments Mr. Sartwell. Hard chrome plating is a process that is extensively used by aircraft manufacturers and military aircraft maintenance depots to provide wear and/or corrosion resistance to components, or to restore dimensional tolerance to components. Within DoD, the total value of the hard-chrome plating operations exceeds $100 million annually. Hard chrome is applied to aircraft components including landing gear, hydraulic actuators, propeller hubs, helicopter rotor heads and gas turbine engines. However, chrome plating utilizes hexavalent chromium, which is a highly toxic carcinogen, and increasingly stringent environmental and worker-safety regulations are making chrome plating more expensive for manufacturers and DoD.

HVOF thermal spraying is a process that is capable of depositing metal alloy, ceramic/metal composite and polymer coatings rapidly and to thicknesses comparable to those of chrome plating. In 1996, the DUSD-ES Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) awarded a project to demonstrate and validate HVOF coatings as a viable replacement for hard chrome on aircraft components. As a result, the Hard Chrome Alternatives Team (HCAT) was created. It is a tri-service/industry group tasked with execution of the project which includes extensive material testing (fatigue, corrosion, wear), full-scale component testing, cost analyses and development of standards and specifications. Mr. Sartwell is the overall coordinator of HCAT activities, including financial manager. Funding support is provided not only by ESTCP, but by the Air Force, Navy, and DARPA with a total commitment of $6 million over a five-year period. A considerable portion of the material testing is being conducted by Dr. Paul Natishan in NRL's Environmental Effects Branch and Dr. Irwin Singer in NRL's Surface Chemistry Branch.

Initial material testing has indicated that the properties of HVOF tungsten carbide/cobalt coatings are superior to hard chrome. According to Mr. Sartwell, "This holds the promise that increased performance of HVOF-coated components will ultimately lead to reduced maintenance, lowering the total-cost-of-ownership to DoD for its aircraft. This is an example where environmental regulations are forcing DoD to adopt a superior technology." The initial favorable results of the HCAT program have led to a decision that the Joint Strike Fighter will be chrome-free and will use HVOF coatings as an alternative. But the applications of HVOF coatings are not limited to just replacement of hard chrome. In a related effort, the Office of Naval Research has established an Integrated Product Team to explore applications of nanoscale HVOF coatings to the CVX, the Navy's aircraft carrier for the 21st century.

The Canadian DND and Department of Industry Canada (roughly equivalent to the U.S. Department of Commerce) became interested in the HCAT program in late 1997 because of the considerable number of military aircraft in DND and because Canadian companies manufacture more than 2/3 of the landing gear used on military and commercial aircraft in North America. In a desire to reduce maintenance costs on their aircraft and to ensure that the Canadian companies remain competitive in the landing gear market, the Canadian government organizations approached the HCAT about executing a formal PA under the auspices of the Technology Research and Development Program Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Canada. Working with the Navy International Programs Office, Mr. Sartwell successfully negotiated the PA whereby the Canadian Government will invest $6 million, matching the U.S. contribution, to conduct complementary material and component testing and share all data and information between the two countries. Mr. Slack indicated that this is the largest environmental-related PA that has been executed between the two countries.

Following the planned extensive testing in the program, results will be presented to appropriate stakeholders, including weapons systems program managers, system command engineers and single item managers, for "buy-in" to the technology. Production HVOF coating systems are being established at many DoD aircraft depots, and personnel have been trained in their operation. Standards and specifications have been drafted and presented to the organization responsible for issuing aerospace materials standards which are replacing the old military specifications. The standards and specifications being developed by the HCAT are expected to be used by the commercial aircraft industry as well.

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