A group of researchers at the University of Missouri-Rolla is recognized in the current issue of R&D Magazine for helping to develop one of the 100 most technologically significant products in 2006.
The UMR scientists have collaborated with Deft Inc. of Irvine, Calif., to create chrome-free coatings that reduce health risks for workers who apply primer to military aircraft. The technology was developed in cooperation with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Warner-Robbins Air Logistics Center and Boeing Phantom Works in St. Louis.
The research is profiled in the September issue of R&D as part of the magazine’s annual R&D 100 awards, which have been called “the Oscars of invention” by the Chicago Tribune.
Chrome-based coatings have been used for decades to prevent corrosion of aircraft, but last year the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) initiated new rules to significantly limit the amount of chrome exposure to U.S. workers.
“The chrome on your car bumper doesn’t present a health risk because the toxic form is the chromate,” says Dr. Thomas O’Keefe Sr., Curators’ Professor emeritus of metallurgical engineering at UMR. “But if you were to grind up that chrome and disturb materials and form the chromate, that would cause a potential health hazard. The risks are mainly associated with those involved in production.”
Applying chrome-based primer can cause severe respiratory problems and in some cases may lead to lung cancer. Companies and organizations still using chrome-based coatings are now required to take expensive precautions to protect workers.
In anticipation of the new regulations, the Air Force became the primary supporter of the research at UMR and Deft. That research was later evaluated at Boeing.
“It’s a good example of how ideas move from academia to industry to implementation,” says Dr. Eric Morris, a Deft researcher who originally started working on the project as a graduate student at UMR.
Deft licensed the chrome-free inhibitor technology from UMR and further developed it into paint formulations, including a chrome-free primer that is currently being used to coat the Air Force’s entire fleet of F-15s. The primer has also been approved for use on Apache helicopters.
The chrome-free primer is compatible with existing materials and provides the necessary corrosion protection. And, best of all, it’s safe for workers.
“Without the new technology, the production workers would have been in moon suits from here on out,” says Dr. James Stoffer, Curators’ Professor emeritus of chemistry at UMR.
It takes approximately 10 gallons of the primer to coat one F-15. The non-chrome primer, which can be sprayed through the same equipment used to apply the old chrome-based coating, is an aqua green color. The aircraft are later coated with a gray paint formulation that is also provided by Deft.
While the Air Force is helping to lead the way in reducing chrome-based risks to workers, primers with the non-chrome inhibitor may soon have a number of commercial applications, too. Boeing, along with the Air Force, has supported UMR’s research in this area since it began about 10 years ago.
R&D Magazine has been giving the R&D 100 awards since 1963. Nicoderm’s anti-smoking patch and HDTV are products that have won in the past.
UMR has filed a patent claim on the original chrome-free inhibitor technology. Stoffer is a principal investigator on the primer project, along with O’Keefe. In addition to Morris, research has also been conducted by Dr. Paul Yu, a research assistant professor at UMR’s Materials Research Center; Dr. Scott Hayes, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at UMR in 2005; Dr. Xuan Lin, who earned a Ph.D. in metallurgical engineering at UMR in 1998; and Richard Albers, a research chemist at Deft.
Among other key individuals who have been responsible for moving the research from conception to implementation are Steven Szuraga and Lt. Stephen Chupp of the Air Force Research Laboratory; Larry Triplett, John DeAntoni, and Stephen Gaydos of Boeing Phantom Works; and John Stephens of Warner-Robbins Air Logistics Center.
This is Deft’s third R&D 100 award. In 1981, Deft won the award for the development of an “Industrial Water-Borne Primer." This primer system was the first VOC (volatile organic compound) compliant primer approved for use on both military and commercial aircraft. Primers employing this technology are currently being used on almost every U.S. aircraft. In 1999, Deft won its second R&D 100 award for the development of “Defthane ELT," a fluorinated polyurethane extended life topcoat that is currently being applied to almost every military aircraft. This topcoat extends the coating life and is consequently saving U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars.