Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
NRC-developed erosion-resistant coating
Article Type: Materials From: Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology: An International Journal, Volume 80, Issue 4
There seem to be coatings for just about everything these days – for eyeglass lenses to make them scratch-resistant, for the undersides of cars so they will not rust, even for clothes to make them stain-resistant. Coatings are definitely one of the areas-to-be in materials research, and the NRC-IAR Structures and Materials Performance Laboratory (SMPL) has been in on the action for many years.
The lab started out assisting companies develop coatings for aerospace applications, and now it is bringing a novel erosion-resistant (ER) coating for engine components to the brink of commercialization.
The evolution of coatings research in SMPL started almost 10 years ago when the lab received funding through the NRC Major Capital Committee to purchase a physical vapour deposition facility, and funding through the IAR New Initiative Fund to begin experimenting with and testing new formulas and structures for aerospace coatings. Success with these new capabilities allowed the lab to secure further funding over three years from the NRC International Program for promising research.
When the projects were completed, the lab was ready to license the technology to Innovative Materials Technologies Inc. (IMT), taking it to the next level. IMT is a Gatineau-based company that specializes in developing nanocoating materials and processes to extend the life of gas turbine engines used in the aerospace sector (both military and civil), the oil and gas industry, and the energy sector. Working with SMPL, IMT is now in the process of certifying the coatings applied to compressor components with Transport Canada.
“This project is an excellent example of the benefit of applied research,” says Dr Linruo Zhao, Group Leader, Materials and Components Technologies, who headed the project. “It started out as a small internal initiative, received recognition from NRC and is now moving into industry. It all worked the way it’s supposed to in the framework of technology transfer: we were able to develop a unique technology and transfer it to industry.”
ER coatings protect engine components from damage by debris particles sucked into the engine by fan and compressor parts rotating at high velocity. These particles can physically erode the materials used in the fabrication of engine components, which can lead to catastrophic engine failure over time. The problems are compounded in the case of helicopters because they often have to land directly into the debris clouds that their rotors create. Current combat situations make the debris issue for helicopters particularly acute.
The aerospace industry is pursuing coatings as one of the best approaches available for protecting engine components and reducing maintenance costs for both commercial and military fleets. The market demand for ER coatings, in particular, is growing and will only get bigger, which makes NRC-IAR’s coatings work with IMT particularly timely and important. Once the final, approved coating is available, it has a very good chance of taking off. In fact, there has already been interest from European engine manufacturers and maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) companies in applying these ER coatings.
“We’re two thirds of the way there with this project,” says Zhao. “We have a few more milestones to meet for certifying the technology, so we can’t quite say the job’s completely done, but we’re close. It will be very interesting to see where this technology goes.”