Grand Junction firm wins grant to develop experimental military weapon

Frank Kustas, Ph.D, president and chief Technical officer for Engineered Coating Inc. works on an electromagnetic coating system in the shop at the Business Incubator.

A Grand Junction company recently won a $100,000 U.S. government contract that could make an experimental military weapon practical.

Engineered Coatings, which is at the Business Incubator Center, 2591 B 3/4 Road, last week won a grant to come up with a protective coating for various parts of the experimental Electromagnetic Railgun, which is being developed for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army by the Institute for Advanced Technology at the University of Texas at Austin and the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

The railgun is designed to use a magnetic field, rather than traditional high-explosive propellants, that can shoot projectiles hundreds of miles at high velocities, according to the university’s website.

The problem is: Shooting those projectiles creates friction on the weapon’s barrel, damaging it each time it’s discharged and requiring a longer time before it can be fired again, said Frank Kustas, an engineering metallurgist who opened the Grand Junction research and development firm last year.

Kustas said his grant is to develop a metallic coating that would lessen that friction.

“Basically, what we’re doing is make some protective surfaces for these big, copper, conductive rails that are going to be used on these Electromagnetic Railguns,” he said. “The problem they have now is the rails get very high temperatures, a lot of current, and they get damaged. The Navy, of course, wants to have something where they can have a fast repeat rate.”

Kustas said his job is to test various copper pieces to see what coating would work best. He said the process will involve depositing thick refractory metal coatings onto the copper and test it with high electric currents and high temperatures. If it works, Kustas could qualify for a second contract to manufacture the coating, which would pay into the millions of dollars.

This is the 13th government-related contract Kustas has received since opening his new firm at the incubator in June 2009. He said his process can have other commercial applications on everything from coating high-temperature areas of a low-orbital space shuttle to developing better nonstick cookware.

“If you could get a much more durable protection system for that, it would be a big, big benefit,” he said, referring to the shuttle.

Kustas retired last year after 25 years at Lockheed Martin. In addition to running the new company, he teaches engineering classes at Mesa State College.

Annalisa Pearson, marketing manager for the incubator, said grants such as the one Kustas won are hard to come by because they are highly competitive.

“He’s got a vacuum-coating system down here that’s pretty impressive,” Pearson said. “He’s quite something. He’s had several (federal) grants, and they’re quite difficult to get. In fact, we’ve asked him for help with other clients.”


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