Hexavalent Chromium Ban of 2017 in Aluminium Surface Treatment
TSA to replace toxic substances in aluminium anodizing
The REACH Regulation of the European Chemicals Agency effectively bans the use of hexavalent chromium for surface treatment as of 2017. Exemptions may be granted only in exceptional cases, such as military aviation applications. Less toxic aluminium surface treatment processes have been developed to replace the use of chrome, such as TSA (Tartaric Sulphuric Acid) and PSA (Phosphoric Sulphuric Acid).
“The benefits of using chrome have been its excellent resilience, low friction and the anti-corrosive properties of chromic acid anodizing. The problem is that toxins are released when manufacturing and processing chromed components, so it is understandable why the EU wants to discontinue chromic acid anodizing,” says Galvatek Senior Adviser Arto Jämsén.
Galvatek offers TSA and PSA processes to replace chromic acid anodizing. These environmentally friendlier processes comply with the REACH Regulation, and they also reduce energy and wastewater costs and are significantly easier to use. Galvatek’s automated lines meet all the demands of NADCAP certification and OEM customers, for example in terms of the traceability of components.
New lines offer lower operating costs
“Replacing chromic acid anodizing with the TSA process can cut both power consumption and anodising time by half. The TSA process also requires less exhaust air, which creates significant savings in energy consumption,” says Jämsén.
Savings can also be generated by having to process lighter wastewater. Also, as corrosive toxins are not released into the indoor air, production facilities are not damaged and the work environment is safer.
“What is most important, of course, is that the treated component is at least as good as it would have been using the old chromic acid anodizing process. Furthermore, the processing of each component is documented in the Galcont system, making it easy to obtain NADCAP certification or to comply with the internal auditing of aircraft manufacturers,” Jämsén adds.
Galvatek has 36 years of experience in supplying aluminium surface treatment lines used in the production of aircraft components but also long history in building chemical cleaning lines for maintenance, repair and overhaul of aero engines. Galvatek systems can be found throughout the world on all continents, as the company has operated on a truly global scale for four decades.
“Our strengths include reliable turnkey deliveries with no unpleasant surprises in terms of schedules or costs. If a manufacturer already has a surface treatment line that complies with regulations, it is usually enough to modernise it. The old line can also be retained for other types of surface treatment, such as chromic acid treatment for military aviation applications.”
Patricomp introduces TSA to its existing surface treatment line
Patricomp in Halli, Central Finland, supplies components to the aviation industry, where its customers include Airbus, Embraer, Saab and the Finnish Air Force. Patricomp is the sole supplier of elevator tips for the Airbus 350, for example.
“We needed a new aluminium surface treatment line to comply with the REACH Regulation, as well as the demands of our customers. Airbus wants to switch to chrome-free components, and TSA is an Airbus-approved method. We were given very precise specifications by Airbus, according to which we introduced and use the process,” says Jari Vasenius, Sales Director at Patricomp.
Patricomp already had a surface treatment line delivered by Galvatek. It was originally installed in the late-1980s for manufacturing aviation components for the Saab 2000, for which Patria was a risk-sharing partner. The surface treatment line was modified in the 1990s when Patria began manufacturing components for the F-18 Hornet fighters of the Finnish Air Force.
“Today the same surface treatment line is used for CAA, TSA, cadmium, passivation, chroming and chemical milling process. While other companies are discontinuing the use of cadmium, we are actually investing in it to meet the demands of the military aviation sector,” says Production Manager Mirka Laakso.
Rapid modernisation project
Patricomp contacted Galvatek in spring 2012 and received a detailed offer in late 2012. The installations began in mid-September 2013, and the modernised line was inaugurated slightly ahead of schedule on 10 December. In the winter of 2013-2014 the line was tested, and Airbus approval was obtained in March 2014.
“The starting point was good, as the line already had free basins and we didn’t need to move walls. Galvatek’s experts calculated exactly what was required to comply with Airbus’s specifications in terms of electricity consumption, the surface area of the cathodes and fluid flows. In practice the modernisation meant resurfacing some of the basins, renewing electricity systems, increasing the number of sensors needed for documentation, and filtering the sulphuric acid and tartaric acid. Since the fluid is organic, it has to be filtered and purified using UV lights to prevent the formation of algae,” Laakso explains.
The modernisation work did not disrupt production at the Patricomp factory or the surface treatment line, which continued to operate at the normal pace of production throughout.
“The auditors from Airbus were very satisfied with the modernised line. The automated line and Galcont system document the processing of all individual components, as Airbus requires. This is a big difference compared to the old systems, in which components were floated in the basins manually. With such a line it would be very difficult or impossible to obtain approval,” says Jari Vasenius.
Galvatek was a safe choice
Both Laakso and Vasenius agree that they never had any uncertainties regarding the choice of supplier.
“The old line was built and modified by Galvatek, so it was quite natural to select Galvatek again to carry out the modernisation project. Selecting another supplier on the basis of cost alone would have involved a significant risk. We enjoyed excellent cooperation with Galvatek, and we were convinced by the expertise of the Galvatek team. We had no problems sticking to the budget or schedule,” Vasenius and Laakso admit.
Patricomp has annual net sales in excess of 5 million euros, 50 employees and 6000 square metres of production facilities. The factory is situated by the local airport in Halli together with Patria Aerostructures and Patria Aviation. Patricomp has Nadcap certification for NDT operations and heat treatment processes. Nadcap certification for surface treatment processes is expected in 2017. Patricomp has been part of the Spanish Aernnova Aerospace Corporation since June 2015.
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