AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings is partnering with American Airlines to deliver a new way of training apprentice painters, and upskilling existing teams, through the use of a virtual reality (VR). The VR platform mimics a customer’s production environment and multiple coating systems to train teams virtually. A VR headset immerses the American Airlines’ trainee in a virtual paint booth, completed with the aircraft part to be coated.

The system can be programmed with various paint specifications, such as the thickness of the coating required, and as the operator uses the spray gun, they can see whether too much or too little paint is used and look for inconsistencies in the way the coating is being applied. Meanwhile, the operator's core skills are measured, from setting up the spraying session to the distance, angle, and speed at which the gun is used. The feedback is immediate, so trainees can react quickly and change their technique to become more consistent. It shows where runs and sags occur, or where the wet film thickness is not sufficient or the coverage inadequate to deliver a smooth finish. It also helps them avoid common problems such as paint overlap.

For American Airlines, a very specific part of the aircraft – a nose landing gear cylinder – was programmed into the system. A cohort of 13 painters of varying abilities were then encouraged to spray the part – without a single drop of real paint being used.

“In a spray booth, we’d have to spray the primer, then let it dry, then measure the results to see how they did – all of which takes time,” said Terry Lesperance of American Airlines. “If we were training 13 painters, we’d also have to have 13 nose landing gear cylinders available to paint. With VR, we don’t have any of these challenges. I can train more painters, more quickly, and allow them to make mistakes without it costing me anything.”

“Typically, when a customer asks for training, we have to provide significant quantities of paint, much of which is wasted,” said Matthew Amick, global technical services manager at AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings. “By effectively moving the spray booth into the classroom, we completely eliminate waste, reduce costs and unnecessary shipping, and prevent volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from being released. There are also no costs associated with cleaning the spray guns, or the additional VOCs released from the solvents required, or providing the panels needed for wet paint training. It’s a ‘win win’ for all involved.”

For more information, visit: www.akzonobel.com.