System invented by Army researchers reclaims unrepairable parts, saves money

May 01, 2017

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the South Dakota School of Mines through a joint ownership agreement commercialized a system to reclaim unserviceable parts and reduce the amount of maintenance required by military and commercial sectors
  • The Cold Spray Device and System forms coatings or near net shaped parts through the supersonic acceleration and subsequent impact and consolidation of particles in a stream of gas using a device that can be used by hand in a variety of operating environments

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 1, 2017) -- The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the South Dakota School of Mines through a joint ownership agreement commercialized a system to reclaim unserviceable parts and reduce the amount of maintenance required by military and commercial sectors. VRC Metal Systems, a start-up company from SDSM, manufactures the cold spray system. The National Council of Entrepreneurial Technology Transfer recognized the company as one of the 40 best university startups for 2017.

ARL's Victor Champagne and Dr. Dennis Helfritch, both with the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, invented the "Cold Spray Device and System," which is a novel approach to forming coatings or near net shaped parts through the supersonic acceleration and subsequent impact and consolidation of particles in a stream of gas (either air, nitrogen or helium) incorporating a small device that can be used by hand in a variety of operating environments.

"The system can be manipulated manually and has a compact design allowing it to be used in remote areas of operation such as in an aircraft hangar, on an oil rig in the ocean, out in the middle of a dessert or other remote areas apart from the factory floor. This has allowed in-situ repair of corroded and worn metal parts such as, expensive aircraft parts, components on vehicles, munitions, ships, submarines and other applications," Champagne said.

According to a Government Accounting Office report, the DOD spends between $10-20 billion annually on corrosion prevention and mitigation. Champagne and Helfritch's system has been used to improve corrosion resistance and reduce the amount of maintenance required by military and contract personnel for the DOD and commercial sectors. A recent study commissioned by the National Association of Corrosion Engineers suggests the national corrosion bill has an annual value exceeding $270 billion.

Champagne developed the use of cold spray for repairing corroded and worn parts, which has significantly reduced the costs associated with the corrosion and damage caused during service of parts used in Army, Navy rotorcraft and Air Force fixed wing as well as all commercial aircraft.

According to Champagne, the system has saved the DOD more than $100 million annually in sustainment costs and commercial savings are equal or even higher.

"Applications using this system have also been developed to contain nuclear waste in various proprietary applications for the Department of Energy. It has been recognized as an additive manufacturing technique that is able to produce exotic materials that cannot be achieved by conventional ingot metallurgy or by other competing AM techniques such as laser sintering or electron beam techniques, because cold spray is a solid state consolidation method and does not melt the starting feed stock materials (which is metal powder) enabling it to produce novel materials and near net shaped parts for production or field applications," said Champagne.

He said the difference between this system and conventional cold spray is that it is truly portable and it has been designed for manual operation or it can be used on a robot making it a "hybrid" system.

"The novel design utilizes a single powder and gas stream and has more capability than any other system, having the capacity to spray at 900 degrees C and at 1,000 psi. The gun weighs only a couple of pounds while the system only takes up a small space allowing it to be taken into remote areas and tight locations," said Champagne. "No other system in the world can match the versatility and flexibility, allowing it to spray into confined areas and over complex geometries."

The Cold Spray System has revolutionized field repair of components and has had a profound effect on reducing sustainment costs in several important industry sectors including not only aerospace but automotive, petrochemical, electronics and the medical industry.

Champagne said commercial companies benefiting from this technology, include Sikorsky, Boeing, Bell Helicopter, Pratt and Whitney, General Electric, Rolls Royce, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse, and United Technology, among others.

He added that commercial uses include aircraft, automobiles, race cars, nuclear power plants, oil rigs, ships, electronic circuit boards, power modules, hospitals (antimicrobial coatings for medical equipment) aircraft carriers and submarines.


The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

 

Last Update / Reviewed: May 1, 2017