Date of Award


Degree Type

Capstone Project

First Advisor

Bahram Nassersharif


Conventional systems for cleaning aircraft split rims waste millions of dollars in water and electrical resources annually. Team B.E.E.M. was tasked by the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) in East Hartford, CT, with developing an alternative method for cleaning aircraft rims. To suit the needs of operation facilities under United Technologies Aerospace Systems, the product must reduce annual waste, maintain the current cleaning cycle time, and avoid damaging the anodized coating on the wheel rim’s surface.

These design requirements are to be met with a fully automated system that implements laser ablation. Laser ablation is a no-contact process that vaporizes targeted materials, eliminates the use of water, and significantly reduces electrical wattage. The system design consists of a 1.0 KW Yttrium-fiber laser coupled with a collimator and galvanometer on the head of a robotic arm. The galvanometer aims at a rotating wheel to ablate the entire surface. Scaled testing with a 20-watt laser and five varying mixtures of dirt, grease, and carbon dust proved that an ablation system can clean up to 95% of the targeted dirt surface. A half-scale model of the loading system was developed to simulate the laser trajectory across the surface of the wheel rim and proved to be capable of reaching all surfaces, including the bolt and spoke holes.

This report presents design specifications for the project, as well as research on optic technology and contamination found on an aircraft wheel rim. The team proposed 120 concepts as alternative methods for cleaning aircraft split rims, which were judged by the ability to satisfy parameters in a Quality Function Deployment analysis set by the United Technologies Research Center. Engineering analysis is provided for theoretical energy requirements for vaporizing contamination, the dynamics and structural integrity of the turntable, and the trajectory algorithm for the robotic manipulator. The design and production of the half-scale model are documented, along with additional redesign features. The laser parameters were verified through scaled tests at IPG Photonics in Oxford, Massachusetts, and the half-scale model was tested for covering the entire surface of the wheel rim. A financial analysis of the project proved to significantly reduce operation costs after a high initial cost. The Laser Ablation Robotic Rim Intensive Cleaner (LARRIC) has exceeded all design specifications outlined throughout this report.

The LARRIC successfully met design considerations throughout the prototyping phase of product development. Further design considerations are provided in this report to optimize the system design and laser trajectory.


Sponsor: United Technologies Research Center