Whether you are shaking up a rattle can or yielding a high-end airless spray gun, there’s a lot more to achieving a great paint finish than picking the right color.
The aircraft coatings industry has undergone a revolution of sorts. The old chromate-heavy primers and topcoat-type paints have all but been replaced with the new basecoat/ clearcoat formulas.
These new paint formulations are not only much, much more environmentally friendly, the fact that they dry faster and hold their colors years longer on the aircraft, have freed airlines up to use their fleet as airborne billboards touting everything from elaborate liveries to some really creative, co-branding messaging.
“For these purposes, the paint performs a very special role,” stated Stefan Jaschinski, head of Technical Services for Mankiewicz Coatings. “The applications of complex liveries and the usage of micas have increased over the past years. The quickness (drying times) of the basecoat applications plays an important role here.”
“For instance, if one were to paint the WestJet Disney livery using topcoats, the aircraft would sit in the hangar for weeks without being able to carry passengers,” he said. “That is inconceivable.”
According to Mankiewicz, the Disney Magic themed 737 theBacockmepdanbyypAaiAnRte’sdgfolorbCalnpadreiasnenAcireli,neWestJetrequired36 coolourrshdaivderssepaprtrioaldlyuaccthoieffverdinbgyathnedcompany’s “wild spraying tecphrnoifqeuses”iownhailchseirsvbicaesesdenoanbthleubsletnoding and shading of various colors.
“The wild spraying technique is one of the many process improvements that accompany the basecoat/clearcoat technology,” Jaschinski said. “Instead of the most frequent color (base color) being applied first, you can apply the lowest (background) color first. Amongst time and material, this procedure results in weight in all aspects of wheel and brake and cost savings for the operator.”
overhaul, rebuild and repairs.
“The overwhelming perception is that the basecoat/clearcoat technology potentially adds two to three years to the life of an
aircraft’s finish,” explained Richard Giles, Global Technical Service and Training Manager, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings. “That’s many more years on the strip cycle and that adds up
to significant savings, which airlines are using to invest in more aesthetically pleasing livery.” Of course, whether you’re painting a simple white fuselage with red and blue stripes or WestJet’s elaborate Disney Frozen themed livery, the successful application of basecoat/clearcoat paints requires a fundamental rethink of your painting processes. And that requires training. For example, Désiree Oldenburger, AkzoNobel Aerospace Coating’s, segment manager, explained that the company not only offers training for aircraft coatings technicians, they also offer training for livery designers.
“Designers often use different color standards (PMS color std.) as used within the aerospace industry. AkzoNobel set up a dedicated color design studio to assist the artist in developing the new color livery for the aircraft,” she said. “Specially trained people can guide the designer on the realistic options and systems for the exterior application on an aircraft. This initiative is taken to speed up the process from the designer’s drawing board to the aircraft on the runway.”
Learning Basecoat Basics
AkzoNobel, Mankiewicz, PPG and Sherwin-Williams all offer both classroom-style and on-site training programs for their current and prospective customers around the world. “New opportunities have opened in emerging regions, increasing the demand to train painters in today’s sophisticated application techniques, while providing product and equipment education,” stated
Mark Cancilla, PPG’s global director, Aerospace Coatings. “PPG sees practical hands-on spray training being more beneficial to paint shop people than theoretical teaching for these advanced technologies.” Cancilla said that along with their current U.S. based coatings school, to better meet the rapid growth of both OEM and MRO paint work around the world, the company’s European coatings team established the PPG Aerospace Coatings Academy in 2015.
“(The Academy) offers a schedule of hands-on training and classroom sessions focused on basecoat/clearcoat and chrome-free technologies, as well as general aerospace coatings information,” he said. “These classes are designed for painters, buyers and engineers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. There are already four sessions scheduled for this year.” While paint application is foremost, understandably these training classes have to cover more than just spraying color.
“We start by focusing on why they (students) are here,” Giles said. “We discuss health and safety, surface preparation, application and clean up. We also spend a good amount of time covering the proper steps to paint mixing and preparation.”
“Paint preparation and mixing is always a big challenge for technicians,” he said. “Both in our training course and when we do on-site training, because paint will only magnify what the level and standard of the preparation is: good or bad. Full gloss paint will not conceal anything.”
“We’ve visited maintenance facilities and found hardener cans with no lids on them. That attracts dirt and moisture into the materials. We also see out-of-date containers,” Giles said. “We educate that if you have the right materials, handle them properly and prepare the surfaces correctly, you are two-thirds the way to the best result.” Giles explained that the goal of the Sherwin-Williams applications “school” is to give painters a better understanding of what it really means to achieve the desired outcome.
“So many painters have basic skills but not a complete understanding of how everything comes together to achieve the desired finish,” he said. “What they all come away with is a better understanding of application; the importance of following the manufacturer’s data sheet. Many new as well as seasoned painters mix paint by experience or mix by eye – whatever that means. Now they have to relearn how to do it correctly. A back-to-basics class has corrected many of these problems.”
Regs play a big role in aircraft painting industry
“Another service AkzoNobel offers customers is assisting in engineering and HSE (Health, Safety and Environment) issues. We can advise customers on products to use, what products will be banned in future, and what alternatives are available,” Ms. Oldenburger said. “We also provide companies with specific training on how to deal with HSE issues like personal protection, safe paint handling, interpretation of MSDS’ (Material Safety Data Sheets), and other HSE related topics.”
Rework is a Four-Letter Word
“The quality of paint application is related not only to the characteristics of the paint, but also the skill of the painter and application conditions,” Cancilla said. “In general, PPG’s classroom sessions focus on product handling, mixing equipment and (various) coatings application techniques. Our hands-on part of the training involves actual product spraying with feedback and guidance from members of the PPG technical team.”
“The new basecoat/clearcoat materials are wonderful, but you have to be trained in the right ways to use them to achieve the desired effects,” Giles said. “These effect coatings can be sensitive to aesthetic disruptions like tiger striping or mottling. The equipment, surface preparation and conditions have to be compatible with the scale and type of effect they are trying to achieve.
“The goal is to make sure you get consistency and that rework is minimized,” he said. “As a painter you have to remember that you only get paid to paint the surface one time – if you have to do it again it’s costing you. Rework is the number one killer of MRO painting profits.”
Aircraft Coatings Application 101
While the scheduled and customer-site training programs the major paint manufacturers offer are all excellent, it may well be a bit too advanced for someone who has recently gotten into aircraft painting.
One option for technicians looking to learn painting from the ground up is to attend a program like the one offered by Finishing Brands and coordinated through Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio.
“This is a class for all kinds of people – sales people, painters, suppliers, manufacturers, operators, supervisors – anyone who has anything to do with painting airplanes,” explained the program’s chief instructor and owner of FocusPoint, Steve Stalker. “My class runs for two and a half days. The first half-day is noting but understanding coatings and their formulations. You have to know how what goes in affects what’s coming out of the gun.”
Stalker said that a major area of misunderstanding is the importance of using paints at the right temperatures. Yes, temperatures.
“Everything is high solids now. Lacquers are long gone. So coating temperatures are very important to achieve consistency in finish quality. If it’s too cold, the paint won’t flow correctly so you have to add more air pressure and that leads to more overspray and waste,” he said. “The coating companies use 77 F as their standard. When you start changing temperatures you change everything.” Along with the finite details of the coating’s handling and chemistry, Stalker said he spends a lot of time covering the hardware – spray guns, hoses and the air source.
“I’d say in all the paint shops I’ve visited over the years, that more than half of them don’t have the right equipment for the job at hand,” he said. “I was at a major aircraft manufacturer in Wichita recently. They were having trouble achieving consistent finishes. The fix was easy – they were trying to use touch-up style spray guns to paint large areas. That just won’t work. It’s too hard to get a consistent coating using high solids materials with low CFM air caps.”
Stalker said that having the right hardware will go a long way towards improving the finish quality of every painter’s work. To that end, he strongly suggests everyone who ever does any painting download a copy of the ABC’s of Spray Finishings handbook from Binks. http://www.binks.com/resources/literature-library”http:// www.binks.com/resources/literature-library
Process. Prepare. Paint. Repeat.
Stalker, as well as the other experts contacted for this story all stressed the growing need to make painting a repeatable process. You just can’t achieve a second time, what you can’t recall doing the first time.
“What I believe very strongly in is developing some kind of standardization process,” Stalker said. “My belief is if it worked yesterday and doesn’t work today, what is different? And if you don’t have a set process to follow then you can’t answer that. So documentation is key.”
“Repetition of good practices ensures good results,” Giles said. “That’s why we try to instill in these good people the need to follow set guidelines. Once you establish that a particular process works, then repeat it every time.”
“Painting is literally liquid engineering,” he said. “Change one thing and the end result could well be different. That’s the value of good training. We help build the foundation of a solid process throughout.”
“By training our customers, and by working closely together with our customers, we are also able to identify the customer requirements for the future. It is possible to assist the customer in optimizing their coating process, to help OEMs in the design of new product requirements, to provide the different types of customers with solutions for their coating problems,” Ms. Oldenburger said. “Effective global training concepts in aerospace coatings are of mutual interest for OEMs, airlines, MROs and the coating supplier, in the past, present and for the future.”