Fabricating the future of the B-1 bomber

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ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, SD (KOTA TV) - For the first time Ellsworth Air Force Base used cold spray technology to repair a B-1 bomber. The technology isn't new, but now they are approved to use it to fix B-1 panels.

Robots repair B-1 bomber panels using cold spray technology

Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Horstman describes the process as similar to welding.

"We take fine metallic powder and we ramp it up with really high pressure and we spray it into the substrate, or the damaged piece," Horstman said. "The particles hit the piece at such a high speed that they actually bond to the material."

Cold spray is more than just neat, it stream lines an incredibly long and tedious process of repairing and replacing parts for aging aircraft - many of which aren't made anymore.

"We are cutting down material waste. We are cutting down man hours. We are cutting down on time. Everything is sped up significantly using the cold spray process," Horstman said.

Not to mention, cold spray repairs save the Air Force more than $225,000 per panel. It isn't just repairs on the radar for military engineers.They want to use cold spray to coat certain parts in a protective layer to extend the life of those pieces.

"It's pretty cool stuff," Horstman said. "The science involved in it and how we are using robots to spray this in a very precise manner is definitively the way forward."

Right now, only the B-1 panels are approved for cold spray repairs, but in the long term the Air Force wants to use it on all sorts of parts fitting a plethora planes.

"The endgame would be to fully integrate this into a fabrication flight and to have shops all over the Air Force," Horstman said.

Russian researchers stumbled onto cold spray technology in the 1980s, and was improved at Ellsworth through a collaboration with the School of Mines. Right now, Ellsworth is the only American base using the technology.