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News | Dec. 13, 2019

NAVAIR Engineer a Finalist in 2019 Maintenance Innovation Challenge

By Jim Markle

VIRIN: 191213-N-XZ252-0061

Andrew Kohl, a Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) materials engineer, was one of six finalists for this year's 2019 Maintenance Innovation Challenge (MIC).

Kohl's submission, Injection Procedure for Applying Radar-Absorbent Material (RAM), was among 79 other submissions to the annual event sponsored by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Materiel Readiness.

Kohl, 25, has worked at the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) Materials Engineering Lab in Building 469 for almost four years and is assigned to the corrosion and wear branch, focusing on cold spray technology and low observable coatings.

Cold spray is a component coating process that uses solid metallic powders, ceramics or alloys. 

A graduate of the University of California San Diego (UCSD), Kohl holds a degree in chemical engineering and joined NAVAIR immediately following graduation.

He worked at FRCSW as an intern under a 10-week summer program after his junior year.

"It was a really good experience. I worked mostly on cold spray at that point, and I didn't really get into the low observable coatings yet. I got to work with a lot of cool people and did some really interesting things and repaired expensive parts."

Kohls submission on the RAM injection procedure was his first to the MIC, or any similar competitions.

The injection process is specific to one F/A-18 Hornet aircraft component: Artisans fix a mold on the exterior of the component and inject the RAM coating into it so it covers the outside of the component.

"I've been working on this for about two years. A lot of that time has been waiting for the specialty materials needed to perform the process. It took us about a year to get all of the materials, and in that time, I was able to write the process and get the documentation on file," he said.

To apply RAM or low observable coatings, artisans must be Level-1 certified and Level-2 certified for specific components.

Previously, the RAM was applied through a troweling procedure that required spreading the material on the part with a curing time and multiple sandings to ensure an even application. A quality verification followed, and in the event of failure, the RAM was removed and the process restarted.

"That procedure failed verification a lot," Kohl noted. "This new process shows promise to be a lot more robust. You can inject the coating in one shot, do very little rework and it becomes a one or two-day process versus a five-day process. In addition, it shows promise to not have those quality verification issues."

The new injection process should save approximately 2,000 man-hours yearly in the application of RAM coatings to F/A-18 aircraft, and the methodology may be used to develop similar processes for other components.

"It could be useful for sealants," he said. "You'd have to develop specialty tooling for that occasion. In general, sealants aren't that difficult to apply as the RAM coating, which makes this so valuable for RAM."

Although Kohl was not chosen the overall winner of this year's Maintenance Innovation Challenge, which concluded December 11 in Spokane, Wash., he was grateful to have been part of the competition.

"I was excited. I knew I had a cool project and put together a good application, and I was pretty honored to make the top six because I know there was a lot of other people out there doing good work as well."

Meanwhile, he is working to expand RAM capability on other F/A-18 components, and developing a general application to reduce turn-around times on all RAM applications.

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