US Army enlists laser cutting to repair helicopters

Corpus Christi, TX - A laser cutting system and job planning software are streamlining the repair and overhaul of US Army helicopters at the Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD).

A new LVD Strippit Axel laser was put into production in 2010, cutting sheet metal patterns to be later formed with a fluid cell press or power brakes before being affixed to a helicopter. Cutting speed is 40 m/min, able to cut through several thicknesses of different material (including plate steel, stainless steel, and aluminum), with repetitive accuracy of 0.0008-in. The laser is controlled using LVD Strippit's CADMAN software.

"This automation will increase quality, reduce manufacturing times and allow one standard time allotted for cutting and deburring patterns and formatting aircraft sheet metal parts manufactured at CCAD," stated Roland de la Fuente, a CCAD sheet metal mechanic supervisor. What once took 24 hours to manufacture by hand now "takes only eight hours," added aircraft sheet metal mechanic Jeremy Garcia. For example, a UH-60 bulkhead required being pressed by hand in multiple sections; the laser cutter can cut the same pattern in five minutes.

Corpus Christi Army Depot's new laser cutter zaps through metal to create parts for Army helicopters. (Photo by Ervey Martinez, courtesy of CCAD)
Corpus Christi Army Depot's new laser cutter zaps through metal to create parts for Army helicopters. (Photo by Ervey Martinez, courtesy of CCAD)

De la Fuente is currently using the laser in a fabrication cell to support the fluid flex cell, but plans are in the works for another laser, a turret punch, and two power breaks, all running off the CADMAN software, which ties in offline integration of laser, punching, and bending processes. "This will allow the artisans to create pattern-cutting and forming programs at the instant the flat pattern is drafted in CADMAN," said de la Fuente. The pattern-cutting program can be transferred to a punch or laser, or even transfer a brake-forming program to the power brakes, for example.

The laser cutting fixture and subsequent automation implementations will allow more accurate scheduling and the training of a more technologically-proficient workforce to meet unpredicted surges in demand, CCAD says.

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