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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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PPG Paint Shop For Aerospace

PPG Industries Inc. last month completed upgrades at its aerospace research and technology center in Burbank. PPG Aerospace, a business division of PPG Industries in Pittsburgh, added laboratory and testing space with climate-control capabilities and created an open floor plan to encourage collaboration among the engineers and scientists working in its San Fernando Valley research center. Based in Sylmar, PPG Aerospace has about 90 employees in Burbank working in various research and technology, manufacturing, customer support and related service and administrative positions. The division has about 1,100 employees in California, which includes, in addition to Sylmar and Burbank, locations in Valencia, Mojave and Irvine. Mehran Arbab, global director of aerospace coatings and sealants research and technology for PPG Aerospace, said the $15.5 million upgrade at the Burbank facility, 2820 Empire Ave., near Hollywood Burbank Airport, will bring all the company’s California research staff under one roof. Also, it means increased capabilities. And finally, the open laboratory space makes for a more collaborative work environment, Arbab said, adding that he is already seeing results. “As an organization, I can see that people are much more interactive, they talk to each other more, they share ideas and work faster,” said Arbab, who has been with PPG for 30 years. The research and technology center is involved with developing new sealants and coatings. The sealants are materials that go inside the fuel tanks of aircraft to seal the tanks against fuel leaking outside and other elements from coming inside. This material must be highly resistant to not only jet fuels but but also mixtures of water and fuel and also be resistant to hydraulic fluids, Arbab said. “They have to last in many cases for the lifetime of the plane, which can be decades,” he added. Coating products can be the paints used on aircraft. Customers want the paint to be high quality, look smooth and dry fast – all work that is done in Burbank. The second part of the coatings business is to protect the fuselage made from aluminum and composite material. They are prone to damage from weather and PPG makes primers that help with protection. “The fuselage will fly for decades and the metals or composite is subject to degradation and it is very important to have the right protective material to keep this from happening,” Arbab said. Currently, the research team is working to elminate pollutants. It is replacing old coating technology which had corrosion protection that used chemicals that are not acceptable anymore, he said. “We continue to develop products that do not use hazardous chemicals,” Arbab explained. Among the business unit’s customers are the large commercial aircraft manufacturers Boeing Co. and Airbus Group SE; miltary aircraft makers Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.; and general aviation producers Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., Bombardier Inc. and Embraer S.A. Additionally, some of the airlines are after-marker customers of PPG products. “If an airplane needs to be re-done, they directly use PPG coatings and sealants to repair the aircraft,” Arbab said. Often the customers will send their own researchers and scientists to Burbank to work alongside the staff on products that are of interest to them. “With this new facility they have been very happy that PPG has made this investment,” Arbab said. Lightning strike protection The Burbank building occupied by PPG Aerospace was built in the late 1960s for PRC DeSoto International. PPG acquired the company in 1999 from its owner Akzo Nobel NV. Akzo had gotten PRC as part of its $3 billion takeover of British paint maker Courtaulds PLC in 1998 and was forced to sell off the business to receive regulatory approvals in Europe. PRC Desoto has been headquarted in Glendale, where it also manufactured of its sealants and coatings. The PPG business unit began two years ago to upgrade the facility. In addition to the new lab space in the building, the company acquired the structure next to it and built a new building with lab space as well, Arbab said. In 2013, when PPG acquired Deft Inc., a private specialty coatings company for military aircraft and other uses in Irvine, the company decided to move their researchers to Burbank. “It was decided in the beginning that the research organizations would be combined under the same roof so they would work closely with each other,” Arbab said. “That also prompted the need for additional space.” Barry Gillespie, the then-vice president of aerospace before his retirement in 2018, said the acquisition would advance PPG’s strategy to remain a leading aerospace coatings supplier. “Deft’s waterborne and chrome-free technologies complement PPG’s existing coatings capabilities and will provide PPG with a broader product portfolio, particularly within the aerospace industry,” Gillespie said in a statement when the deal was announced. Another acquisition that benefited the Burbank faciliity’s mission came over the summer when PPG bought Dexmet Corp., an East Coast manufacturer of specialty materials for surfaces in aerospace, automotive and industrial applications. Specifically, the company makes products to protect aicraft against lightning strikes. “PPG’s research and development team will leverage Dexmet’s expertise in ultra-thin metal mesh foil and polymer mesh across the markets we serve,” Daniel Korte, PPG global vice president, aerospace, said in a statement. Diverse researchers Nontraditional areas of research at the Burbank facility include developing technologies for additive manufacturing and the design and development of equipment and materials that allow the automated application of aircraft sealants and coatings. “All of these require next-generation materials and we continue to expand the research into those for the aerospace industry,” Arbab said. The upgraded building is an asset in recruiting of new hires, Arbab continued. The expansion would allow for a 20 percent increase in the number of employees, or about 18 new workers. When potential new hires are brought in, they are impressed with what they see, Arbab said. “They see that they have a place to work effectively and productively and a place to be proud of,” he added. It is a very diverse workforce at the Burbank plant, which is typical of California. “That diversity has been a great asset for us,” Arbab said. “It is really nice to have this mix of people that can create ideas and work well with each other.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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