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Five facts about new self-healing paint for JLTVs

Mar. 26, 2014 - 08:25PM   |  
A new primer developed by the Office of Naval Research and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory may save millions on the upkeep of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and, eventually, many other pieces of Marine Corps equipment.
A new primer developed by the Office of Naval Research and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory may save millions on the upkeep of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and, eventually, many other pieces of Marine Corps equipment. (Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps’ next generation of tactical vehicles will likely be covered in a new protective primer that is able to heal itself like human skin, and experts say it will cut down on corrosion and repair time.

Joint Light Tactical Vehicles have been tapped to be covered with a new self-healing additive developed by the Office of Naval Research and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. It’s called polyfibroblast, a powder that can be added to most commercial paints.

“Right now the transition is to the JLTV program and they’re planning on incorporating it,” said Capt. Frank Furman, who manages logistics research programs for ONR. “But there’s no reason at all why it couldn’t be incorporated long-term into any ground vehicle.”

What you ought to know:

1 How it works. If a vehicle with polyfibroblast mixed into its primer is scratched, a process similar to what skin does to heal itself begins.

“When you have that scratch, these microcapsules within the primer are broken and they release essentially new primer into that scratch,” Furman said.

That seals the metal, the steel or aluminum, from the elements so it’s less likely to rust or decay, he added.

2 Budget saver. Furman said the Navy Department spends billions each year on vehicle maintenance costs tied to corrosion. Since polyfibroblast is an additive, the cost to put it into a primer the department already buys to coat vehicles is minimal, he said.

Budget cuts are leaving the Marine Corps looking at ways to preserve what it already has, and a new product like this will help it keep vehicles in the fleet for longer periods of time, Furman said.

“Our legacy fleet is really not going anywhere — we need to maintain it, and corrosion is the big cost driver for it.”

3 Less repair time. When Marines lose their vehicles from the fleet for repairs, it can be a major inconvenience, Furman said. Applying a self-healing primer can reduce the number of times a vehicle will have to go in for maintenance, he said.

“A vehicle being fixed is not of any use to us,” he said. “You’re always going to have vehicle maintenance ... but if you can spread it out, you’re really going to start to see some cost savings.”

4 Expeditionary tests. With Marines heading back to sea, the primary factor in developing polyfibroblast was to ensure their vehicles are maritime-ready, Furman said. Regular exposure to saltwater spray from the ocean can be harsh on vehicles, which is why they wanted to make sure the product worked in those conditions.

“The primary testing is done in a salt fog environment,” Furman said. “It’s almost like a carwash, so the vehicle is constantly being sprayed by saltwater and salt fog.”

Vehicles aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., were also painted with polyfibroblast and used day-to-day in order to compare them to other vehicles without the healing primer. Those tests showed less rust and corrosion forming on vehicles that had been scratched, he said.

5 Future uses. For now, the Corps plans to apply the primer to the JTLVs slated to replace older Humvees. But with the right testing and adjustments, polyfibroblast could be applied to anything the Corps tries to protect from corrosion.

That could include aircraft, which could save even more money since corrosion on aircraft is even more expensive to fix than on ground vehicles, he said.

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