Lasers Produce Shark Skins on Aircraft

Special Trident livery done by Mankiewicz for the jet dedicated to the Belgian national soccer team (Source: Mankiewicz / courtesy: Brussels Airlines)

During the IntAirCoat Conference 2019, laser specialist 4jet and leading aircraft paint supplier Mankiewicz, both based in Germany, have introduced a new laser process for the creation of fuel saving rib-lets automatically lasered onto painted aircraft surfaces.

The technology – dubbed LEAF for laser-enhanced air flow – uses the principle of laser interference patterning to quickly create fine lateral grooves in the uppermost layer of aircraft paint. Such riblets have been proven to reduce drag by up to ten percent which results in fuel savings for commercial long-haul airlines by more than one per-cent – equaling tremendous potential savings on total global kerosene spending of 150 billion dollars annually.

Laser-powered drag reduction: hundreds of riblets created within a second (Source: 4jet)

The process – while still in the development stage – already yields industrial throughput levels and has passed initial qualifications for durability. Removing paint by lasers is a well-known technology but so far proved to be too slow to create the high density of riblets required to achieve “shark skin” effects. Instead of creating the riblet grooves with one focused laser spot “line by line”, 4jet has now found a way to speed up the process by a factor of about 500 using the principle of laser interference patterning. The laser beam is split up and recombined on the surface in such a way that the electric field oscillations of the light waves superpose in a controlled manner. This superposition creates a distinct pattern of dozens of alternating equidistant lines of high and almost no intensity within one single laser spot. This enables to create 15 kilometers of riblets – equal to about one square meter of riblet surface – within less than one minute.

And to add even more benefits: LEAF is working dry without any consumables. It allows to adjust riblet geometries depending on their location on the air-craft. The paint dust and vapor created during the process are evacuated and the process does not require post processing. The technology enables to process curved or riveted surfaces and – thanks to its long focal distance – can be integrated with existing robotics used for paint removal or printing operations in aircraft maintenance. (Source: 4jet)

Link: 4JET microtec GmbH & Co. KG, Alsdorf, Germany

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