SSgt Brendan McCormick, 36th Maintenance Squadron Corrosion Control NCOIC, uses an ablative cleaning laser to remove rust from a stair lift, Feb. 27, 2019, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. An ablative laser is a tool used to remove rust by emitting UV rays strong enough to vaporize rust and other materials such as paint and residue. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Heal)
SSgt Brendan McCormick, 36th Maintenance Squadron Corrosion Control NCOIC, uses an ablative cleaning laser to remove rust from a stair lift, Feb. 27, 2019, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. An ablative laser is a tool used to remove rust by emitting UV rays strong enough to vaporize rust and other materials such as paint and residue. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Heal)

New laser cleans up corrosion

by Airman 1st Class Zachary Heal
Andersen Air Force Base

A purple and blue light glows and a buzzing sound, like that of a sci-fi laser, emits as UV rays and rust react. Dust particles fall from the metal, only to be vacuumed up before hitting the floor.

But this isn’t a sci-fi movie, this is just an average day for the 36th Corrosion Control Unit, using an ablative cleaning laser to clean a stair lift. An ablative cleaning laser is a tool used to clean metals by emitting UV rays strong enough to vaporize rust and other materials such as paint and residue. 

“One great thing about the ablative laser is that is doesn’t use harsh chemicals to clean the metal and it doesn’t make any hazardous waste,” said SSgt Brendan McCormick, 36th Maintenance Squadron Corrosion Control NCOIC. “It’s environmentally friendly, which is something we are consciously striving towards in the Air Force.”

The laser was provided to Andersen by the University of Dayton Research Institute in partnership with the Air Force Corrosion Control and Prevention Office as part of an on-location test trial. 

The ablative laser doesn't use chemicals and doesn't require normal disposable cleaning supplies, only a pair of UV glasses to protect the eyes of the user and bystanders. The lack of supplies needed makes this a cost efficient tool to use over long periods of time, its only expense is the power to run it. It also creates a very minuscule amount of waste; a fine dust that can be easily disposed of without negative effects to the environment. 

Along with being cheaper and safer, the ablative laser also saves time. The laser cuts the rust removal and repainting process almost in half compared to traditional sanding methods.

“The cost and time-saving benefits paired with the benefit of it being environmentally friendly make this tool a huge asset to our corrosion control unit here at Andersen,” said TSgt Michael Fossler, 36th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication flight chief, “especially given that Guam is a more corrosive environment than most other Air Force bases.” 

Getting the mission done faster, cheaper, and more safely, this tool would be a valuable asset even if it didn't seem like it was from the future.

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