Aerobotix celebrates milestone in maintenance work for U.S. Air Force

Huntsville firm estimates its automated system saves about $40,000 per aircraft

An Aerobotix painting robot at work.

Huntsville-based Aerobotix is celebrating completion of its 40th restoration of air inlet ducts on F-22 Raptor aircraft for the U.S. Air Force.

Aerobotix, supported by funding from the Air Force Small Business Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, developed an automated painting system designed to restore performance coatings on F-22 air inlet ducts. The automated systems is quicker, more cost efficient and more precise than similar work done by hand, Aerobotix notes.

The firm finished refurbishing its first F-22 in 2016 and expects to complete its 50th next year.

“Our robotic technology can paint these units using only about 300 hours of labor, rather than 1,600 hours,” said Project Manager Bret Benvenuti, a senior robotics engineer at Aerobotix. “That’s a labor saving of around 80%, so it really solves the challenge of getting these aircraft back into service quicker. We estimate that since 2016, we’ve helped the Air Force save $8.8 million – $220,000 per aircraft – in maintenance costs.”

Specialty coatings on air inlet ducts smooth airflow into the engines, but cost about $1,000 per gallon. Aerobotix calculates that its efficient application system saves about $40,000 per aircraft.

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“When you recoat jet-engine inlets manually, it requires maintenance workers to wear protective suits and respirators and spend hundreds of hours crawling around on their hands and knees inside the inlet,” said Project Lead Nathan Morgan, an Aerobotix field engineer. “Under those conditions, it’s nearly impossible for workers to manually apply the coatings at consistent speeds and thicknesses. Our robots achieve better results while also curbing the number of worker injuries.” 

In addition to its work on the F-22, Aerobotix has developed automated systems for the F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet and F-35 Lightning II.

You can see a short video about the Aerobotix project here.

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