Making quick work of masking

ARTC's Mr Ooi (left) and Sankei Eagle's Mr Siew with a manufacturing robot. Sankei Eagle worked with ARTC and aerospace firms to build a prototype to automate the masking process in application of coatings.
ARTC's Mr Ooi (left) and Sankei Eagle's Mr Siew with a manufacturing robot. Sankei Eagle worked with ARTC and aerospace firms to build a prototype to automate the masking process in application of coatings.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Imagine spray-painting a design on a surface and using masking tape to painstakingly cover the areas that need to be paint-free.

Now, imagine being told to do this a few hundred times.

This is what people are still doing in the aerospace industry - sticking masking tape on hundreds of components by hand so that protective coatings can be applied to selected areas.

This is finally about to change.

Local firm Sankei Eagle Singapore has teamed up with the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) and aerospace heavyweights Rolls- Royce, Singapore Aero Engine Services and International Engine Component Overhaul to develop a machine to automate the masking process.

Instead of masking tape, the machine applies a specific liquid to the component using a specially developed automatic process, halving the time it takes to mask the component.

Despite the complexity and precision required of the machine, the prototype took less than three months to build.

"This is one of the fastest projects in our history of making machines like this. Usually, it would take four to five months," said Mr Raymond Siew, managing director of Sankei Eagle.

Mr Ooi Yau Yen, a senior research engineer at ARTC, said: "There were many, many iterations, but Sankei Eagle was very responsive. It was a very close collaboration and it delivered to our exact specifications.

"SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) are very agile and communication is almost instantaneous," added Mr Ooi, explaining the benefits brought about by an SME's relatively small size and less complicated hierarchy.

ARTC, an institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), acts as a bridge between SMEs and major corporations, providing state-of-the-art facilities for developing and testing new technologies before commercial deployment.

ARTC's private-public partnership model, unique in Asia, creates a collaborative environment for members to share ideas and help them generate new business opportunities.

Lin Yangchen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2016, with the headline 'Making quick work of masking'. Print Edition | Subscribe