Green aviation: Why sustainable products are here to stay

In an environmentally conscious aviation world, PPG’s global platform director, coatings & sealants, aerospace Sam Millikin explains the importance of developing sustainable products and processes

Did you know that the aerospace industry spends US$15 billion annually on sustainability and efficiency-related research and development (R&D)? In fact, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a vocal proponent for an initiative known as ‘green aviation’, a term used to describe activities to improve aircraft fuel efficiency, develop the next generation of efficient air traffic control, and develop new technologies and systems engineering processes.

If manufacturing companies wish to stay relevant in this highly competitive landscape, they must be prepared to offer products and services that are environmentally conscious and regulatory compliant to contribute to this forward-thinking industry initiative.

As a global leader in aerospace manufacturing, PPG’s extensive aerospace product portfolio enables a concerted and disciplined approach to developing sustainable products and processes that provide environmental and other sustainability benefits to our global customers within the aviation sector. This approach aligns closely with PPG’s overall efforts to increase sales from products and processes that have improved sustainability, with 35 per cent of sales in 2020 meeting this mark.

For example, the industry is moving away from hexavalent chrome, which has traditionally been used as a corrosion inhibitor in primers and pretreatments. Eliminating substances such as hexavalent chrome and using more eco-friendly corrosion inhibitors continue to be important objectives for PPG in new product development. Customers benefit from the pretreatments and primers now in use that provide the needed corrosion-resistance performance without hexavalent chrome as an intentionally added ingredient.

PPG’s global platform director, coatings & sealants, aerospace Sam Millikin.

Lowering the use of solvents within aerospace coating products and moving towards water-based technologies is another initiative picking up steam within the industry, due to growing concerns over emissions and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

A few years ago, we launched ‘PPG Desoprime 7530’, a chrome-free, wash primer that customers can apply with electrostatic spray equipment. This technology combined with ‘PPG Desoprime 7065’ polyurethane primer offers an excellent alternative to current chromate wash primers. PPG’s chrome-free primers support our customers’ needs to eliminate use of hexavalent chrome and provide environmentally sustainable products, while offering potential for reducing weight, increasing productivity and decreasing the total cost of ownership.

Additionally, PPG offers ‘PPG Aerocron’ chrome-free, electrocoat (e-coat) primer, used to coat structural parts by electrodeposition instead of a traditional spray process, which reduces product waste and provides a more uniform film thickness on the part. The automated application process also allows for increased productivity. Use of this product can result in up to 75 per cent weight savings on highly complex parts.

Environmental stewardship and sustainably within the aerospace industry goes well beyond the physical products on the plane. Reduction in waste, energy and water consumption play key roles when developing innovative and eco-conscious products for our customers. Our aerospace packaging team is currently researching the use of plastic alternatives such as bio-based resins and post-consumer recyclable (PCR) materials, as well as collapsible packaging, all of which, will improve reduction of disposal waste for our customers. The more efficient we are in using materials to make our products, the less waste we produce, the fewer resources we consume and the more money we save.

The promotion of right-sized packaging for our sealants products are also incredibly important in reducing product waste, as this ensures more sealant ends up on the aircraft and less in the disregarded pile. PPG also offers a ‘Customized Sealant Solutions’ (CCS) programme, which allows members of our team to partner with our customers to develop innovative product concepts that optimise and simplify the process of sealing aircraft. These CSS products are supplied in unique customer-specific forms and provide traditional fuel tank sealing, corrosion-inhibiting and smoothing characteristics, while affording significant labour time and quality advantages. It’s also important to note that all of our aerospace sealants are free of lead containing products, and we are currently in the process of ensuring REACH compliance for nearly all of our sealant product line.

Meeting with customers on a regular basis provides us with the opportunity to evaluate our design profiles and formulations to ensure that we are meeting their evolving needs, as well as the evolving environmental global standards. Thanks to our product stewardship team, we maintain a simple-to-use matrix that details regulatory requirements for all countries where we do business. This is supported by detailed procedures for compliance, including customer use requirements.

At PPG, we are committed to using resources efficiently to drive sustainability throughout our entire value chain. We continue to partner with customers to manufacture coatings, materials and technologies that extend the useful life of products and help our customers reduce energy usage and emissions, and minimise waste and water consumption. As the aerospace industry looks towards cleaner skies and greener futures, we too, remain dedicated to protecting and beautifying the world – one product at a time.

About the author

As a 32-year veteran of PPG, Sam Millikin has held various leadership roles in manufacturing, commercial development, marketing and sales across multiple PPG businesses including fine chemicals, optical monomers and coatings, silica products and Teslin substrate. Sam transitioned to PPG’s aerospace business in 2013.

Sam holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology and a Master of Science in Industrial Administration (MBA) from Carnegie Mellon University.

[Main image: Photo by Gergitek Gergi tavan / Shutterstock.com]

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