NAWCAD Lakehurst improves production time, safety with robotic welder

NAWCAD Lakehurst welding artisans use the robotic welder to overhaul an Improved Low Loss Launch Valve body in order to bring it back up to the quality required to return it to the Navy™s supply system.

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst is reducing production time and costs, while increasing readiness and the safety of its welding artisans by using a new robotic welder.

NAWCAD Lakehurst’s Prototyping and Manufacturing Division (PMD) implemented a robotic welder in February for its overhaul of Improved Low Loss Launch Valve (ILLLV) bodies, part of the steam catapult system on aircraft carriers.

The PMD welding artisans spend 160 hours or more welding the body seats of the ILLLV, often in extreme heat conditions of up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the high temperatures, the artisans need to take safety breaks, increasing the amount of production time needed to complete the overhaul and get the ILLLV components back to the fleet.

“The launch valve is inherently difficult to overhaul,” said Liza Scafuro, PMD Launcher and Support Equipment Branch head. “When we get them from the fleet, the condition of the valve varies from one valve to the next, so even though we have set procedures for their inspection and repair, additional work may be required.”

Corrosion builds up on the ILLLV while it’s on the aircraft carrier, and PMD’s welding artisans need to remove the corrosion to bring the ILLV back up to the quality required to return it to the Navy’s supply system.

The new robotic welder has increased readiness by reducing the production time of the ILLLV body from 160 hours over three weeks to just 18 hours over three days.

It also removes the welding artisans from the extreme heat environment for approximately 90 percent of required tasks, allowing them to focus on other necessary ILLLV components and increasing their safety.

“PMD’s robotic welder initiative exemplifies Naval Air Systems Command’s goal of bringing both speed and quality to the products we supply to the fleet,” said Kathleen P. Donnelly, Acting Executive Director for Lakehurst. “Just as important, it’s increasing safety for our artisans and improving their work environment. Great job to the entire team for bringing this innovative idea into fruition through the Capital Investment Program.”

PMD thoroughly researched automatic welding processes and evaluated the robotic welder to make sure it would produce the same quality as welding done by hand, said Joseph Strickland, PMD welding engineer.

They received funding through the Capital Investment Program, a NAWCAD program to reinvest in infrastructure to modernize and improve command activities to accomplish essential mission requirements.

“The feasibility and qualification process of the robotic welding system for the ILLLV program was rigorous, which yielded a system that met all of PMD’s goals,” Strickland said. “As a result of the increased personnel safety and decreased production time, the robotic welding system has become an integral part of the ILLLV welding process.”

PMD will evaluate the performance of each ILLLV body and improve the process as needed.

Seeing the benefits to the ILLLV body, PMD is also researching using the robotic welding program to reduce other ILLLV component welding production times.

“This is a great accomplishment for the ILLLV Overhaul and Build Program,” Scafuro said. “We always look for opportunities where we can save cost and time. The robotic welder was one of those opportunities that significantly benefitted the program. This validated all the effort and hard work that the team had put into improving the time and reducing the cost of welding the seats on the ILLLV bodies.”