Two German companies have jointly developed a new laser technology to help create fuel-saving riblets for aircraft.
According to private equity firm JoltCapital, 4JET and Mankiewicz’s Laser Enhanced Air Flow (LEAF) technology could in the longer run help cut down CO2 emissions in the aviation sector.
LEAF uses the same principle of laser interference patterning to quickly create fine lateral grooves in the uppermost layer of aircraft paint.
Riblets have proven to reduce drag by up to 10% which results in fuel savings for commercial long-haul airlines by more than 1%.
Though this percentage seems small, it actually equals to tremendous savings on total global kerosene spending of $150 billion annually, reports JoltCapital.
The new laser process is still in its development stage but has already yielded industrial throughput levels, apart from passing initial durability tests.
Removing paint by lasers is a well-known technique but has so far proven to be too slow to create the high density of riblets required to achieve ‘shark skin’ effects.
4JET has now found a way to speed up the process by a factor of about 500 using the principle of laser interference patterning.
This involves splitting the laser beam and recombining it on the surface in such a way that the electric field oscillations of the light waves superpose in a controlled manner.
This superposition creates a distinct pattern of dozens of alternating equidistant lines of high and almost no intensity within one single laser spot.
According to the companies, this leads to the creation of 15 kilometers of riblets – equal to about 1 m² of riblet surface – within less than one minute.
What makes LEAF all the more feasible is that it can work dry without any consumables. It does this by adjusting the riblet geometries depending on their location on the aircraft.
The paint dust and vapor created during the process is evacuated and the process does not require post processing.
Moreover, curved or riveted surfaces can be processed easily and integrated with existing robotics used for paint removal or printing operations in aircraft maintenance.
Image and content: JoltCapital