At the National Agricultural Aviation Association Convention in Long Beach, California, Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch announced the Olney, Texas aircraft manufacturer is midway through installation of a new electrocoating primer system. Electrocoating (E-coat) is a method of painting that uses electrical current to deposit paint onto a substrate. The new E-coat process has many manufacturing advantages and environmental benefits. It also produces aircraft parts that have excellent corrosion resistance. The new E-coat system is expected to be operational in 2017.
Rick Turner, Air Tractor Vice President of Operations, explained why the company is moving to an electrocoating process for its aluminum aircraft parts. “Since Air Tractor began building airplanes, we have used—like most aircraft manufacturers—a chromated pre-treatment and spray primer process for corrosion protection on aluminum parts. E-coat has been used in the automotive industry for 50 years; in fact 98 percent of today’s car bodies utilize an electrocoated primer. It is a technology used worldwide to achieve high quality, cost effective finishes at a level of efficiency and environmental compliance no other finishing method approaches,” Turner says.
The E-coat process offers a number of environmental health and safety benefits. It’s a chrome-free, metal-free process. This means low VOC’s, low solvent emissions, and minimal exposure to hazardous materials for employees. Since it is a dip instead of a spray process, VOC’s and solvent emissions and much lower. While the E-coat process is very eco-friendly, it also provides superior corrosion protection for aluminum airframe parts and component systems.
The coating process is completely automated, Turner reports. “It provides a uniform, consistent coating throughout the part, even in holes, slots and inside tubes. It’s a process where, instead of spraying the primer onto the part, the part is dipped into an electrically charged tank of primer. Electrocoating maximizes paint adhesion and provides a superior finish.”
The E-coat process is extremely efficient. There is no over-spray, meaning that 90%-95% of the coating adheres directly to the part. Turner says E-coat is a major improvement from traditional coating methods, where nearly 70% of the chromated primer wound up in the spray booth filters or on the floor or walls of the paint booth.
“E-coat process provides a better, longer-lasting product to Air Tractor owners,” says Turner. “Given the chemicals that ag pilots work with, we believe there will be fewer panels to replace, re-coat or repaint, meaning less maintenance costs in the long run for the life of the airplane. What’s more, electrocoated parts can be easily repainted in the field with commonly used aircraft paints and spray systems.”
“Air Tractor is the first aerospace manufacturer in the United States to move to this system,” notes Jim Hirsch. “It’s one more example of how we continually work to improve Air Tractor aircraft to provide better value and a better product for our customers.”