Monday, June 20, 2011

A350 composite wing panels to be first out-of-autoclave parts

A350 composite wing panels to be first out-of-autoclave parts: "
While all the attention at the Paris Air Show will surely be turned to the airlines and the aircraft makers they will be shopping from, a little known technology company called Advanced Composites Group Ltd., may be set to make a big impact on the future of commercial aerospace manufacturing in Le Bourget.

On display for the first time will be parts manufactured for the Airbus A350 XWB composite trailing edge wing panels. While on its surface that may not seem particularly notable in an aircraft that has 52% composite primary structure, each panel is made from MTM44-1, the first application of out-of-autoclave (OoA) composite technology for commercial aircraft structure.

The heavily infrastructure intensive process of curing composites at 180 degrees Celsius requires expensive massive autoclaves to cook monolithic parts that seek to deliver a higher strength to weight ratio over comparable metallic parts. The autoclaves are a massive part of the cost of the capital expenditure for majority-composite aircraft, along with the high cost to run the high-temperature, high-pressure ovens for each shipset.

Boeing is currently in search of a method of building an all-new composite narrowbody aircraft without autoclaves, allowing for significantly higher production rates running at 40, 50 or even 60 aircraft per month, while cutting both the non-recurring and recurring cost to build each one.

It should not go unmentioned that the Advanced Low Cost Aircraft Structures (ALCAS) program led by Airbus and Dassault, which helped to ready MTM44-1 for production primetime, was funded by the European Union's Framework Six program, explicitly mentioned in the Boeing WTO complaint. In fact, the recent WTO appellate decision determined that the Framework Six program represented a specific subsidy, but not one that was prohibited. The program represents a definitive example of integrated stakeholders developing commercially viable technology that further the goals of all the parties involved.

Though as Boeing looks to make a decision about an all-new jet or re-engined 737 in the next nine months, a battle of aerospace materials is in the works with significant news expected from metallics giant Alcoa in the coming days as well, setting up Paris to see duelling technologies make their case for large-scale commercial implementation.

However, the battle doesn't necessarily represent polar opposite directions for airframers, but rather finding the right application for both OoA and advanced metals as each seeks to make make their case for not just new jets, but also reducing the weight and cost for those already in production.

Photo Credit Airbus

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