Collins Aerospace has selected the robotic surface treatment process designed and developed by Plasmatreat to sand the composite nacelles of the Airbus A350 engines.
Prepare the engine nacelle before painting
A composite aircraft engine nacelle requires preliminary sanding work before painting. Extremely meticulous manual work so that the coating adheres perfectly and sustainably while resisting numerous constraints (thermal, climatic, friction). A long job which also requires waste treatment and generates significant energy consumption. Without forgetting the consideration of dust due to sanding of the bonding primer to limit the impact on operators. To resolve this equation and maintain an annual production of 120 engine nacelles for Airbus A350 at its Colomiers site, Collins Aerospace, under the leadership of its Manufacturing Engineering and Aerostructures Innovation manager, Vincent Vignoboul, therefore studied several solutions.
Find the right solution
Before moving towards plasma surface treatment, Collins Aerospace first considered using a micro-sandblasting pretreatment solution. This option was quickly ruled out due to its drawbacks, particularly in terms of the difficulty of implementation and the significant amount of dust generated by this type of process. Second step: the evaluation of several existing processes on the market (classic, flaming, under nitrogen environment, etc.), to finally select the process designed and developed by Plasmatreat and which is based on the use of atmospheric plasma nozzles, powered only by electrical energy and compressed air as ionizing gas. “From there, a cooperation was born to define a nozzle head capable of treating the largest possible surface and specially modified to reach the bases of 90° angles,” says David Gutteres, manufacturing engineering manager and robotics expert. within the aerostructures department of Collins Aerospace.
Two years of testing for Plasmatreat and Collins Aerospace
The operation was not done in a day and required a first phase of testing which lasted two years. To simplify the implementation of the process and limit the risk of errors caused by premature robotization, Collins Aerospace initially used a manual rental machine from Plasmatreat. The goal was to be able to freely and directly test the Openair-Plasma® surface treatment process on small surfaces on its production line, and this in real conditions before even opting for the modification of its entire process. This step made it possible to treat the surfaces like airline emblems, in small series.
Once convinced by the process and its high reliability, Collins Aerospace decided to robotize the surface treatment of the nacelles by integrating the adapted plasma nozzles on a robotic cell on the production line. The surface treatment system now used by Collins Aerospace is mounted on a 6-axis robot and includes 2 double systems.
With a process that significantly reduces sanding time and waste while respecting operator protection standards and allowing reliable and homogeneous surface treatment, including in areas that are difficult to access and without the need for rework by primer retouching, Collins Aerospace is now considering duplicating this treatment process on its Toulouse site for the painting line of small aircraft, or even exporting it to its German and American sites.