Technology of the Future

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sam Salopek
  • 349th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Looking much like a handheld vacuum cleaner attached to an extra-large Shop-Vac, the technology that may revolutionize the aircraft structural maintenance shop does not scream “innovation” on first glance. Despite appearances, the capabilities of the neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) laser has the potential to cultivate a healthier and safer work environment, as well as be a more efficient tool to accomplish common shop tasks.

The 60th Maintenance Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California, received new Nd:YAG lasers designed to take away paint, primer, corrosion and rust more effectively than the old-school method of sanding and blasting, said Staff Sgt. Bennie E. Rizzo III, the 60th MXS aircraft structural maintenance supervisor.

“One of the big pulls for getting the lasers was that it was marketed as being able to be used without a respirator,” said Rizzo. “We use a primer that has chromate in it. Chromate is a carcinogen; it causes cancer. One of the big things about these lasers is they minimize our waste stream significantly.”

Sanding and blasting knocks up carcinogens in the air, said Rizzo. The laser has a built-in vacuum. As it moves along and removes the substrate, it sucks up the particles, keeping them out of the air.

The aircraft structural maintenance shop at Travis AFB was selected to test the capabilities of the lasers and develop a training plan as well as determine what personal protective equipment is required to operate the technology, said Rizzo.

The 60th MXS will be testing the new laser technology for the next two years.

“Because it’s new, we’re developing the training plan and we’re developing the personal protective equipment requirements,” said Master Sgt. Brian Horak, the 60th MXS aircraft structural maintenance section chief.

“We have to fill out documentation every time we use a laser on a piece of equipment, then we use the traditional way on another piece of equipment,” said Horak. “We document what we save for hazardous waste and how much time we saved, if we saved anything at all, and then send that up to the Air Force.”

The lasers offer the Air Force other capabilities on top of a healthier and safer work environment.

“In the past, we really didn’t have an effective way to take rust off and this addresses that need to extend the life of equipment,” said Horak.

Currently, the 60th MXS is not using the lasers to accomplish work tasks until the results from initial testing come back detailing information to determine safety and operational requirements, said Rizzo.

“I’m optimistic in the fact that it gives us another capability that we didn’t have before, and addresses a lot of needs specific to Travis (AFB),” said Horak.

“The lasers far surpass the old methods in the hazardous waste arena,” said Rizzo. “I think the laser systems are going to be the way of the future.”