Less autoclave use in aircraft manufacturing
Reducing the environmental impact of air travel makes a major contribution to minimising climate change because the global aerospace industry is huge. Industrial attention originally focused on developing novel composite parts with high strength and low weight as alternatives to metals. Lighter weight reduces fuel consumption and associated emissions. Having developed high-performing components, research turned to simultaneously reducing manufacturing costs and environmental impact. Scientists are exploring the potential of a novel technology to produce aerospace-quality composites with significantly less energy in the EU-funded project 'Industrialisation of out-of-autoclave manufacturing for integrated aerostructures' (IRIDA). Autoclave processing uses high temperatures and pressures to produce composites, particularly carbon fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) ones. FibreTemp technology is an out-of-autoclave manufacturing technique that electrically heats big composite moulds through their carbon fibre reinforcements. In addition to the even temperature distributions and decreased process cycle time (fast heating and cooling), FibreTemp facilitates proven dimensional stability of both the mould and the manufactured part. IRIDA investigated all aspects of composite processing to enable a reliable, accurate and repeatable technique. Researchers studied various materials for the process tools to ensure endurance in the face of repeated heating and cooling cycles. Based on insight, they designed a liquid resin infusion CFRP tool with self-heating capabilities and an integrated cooling system. The infusion process was then simulated for various resin flow conditions. In the end, the team manufactured an aircraft engine nacelle, a large and complex aircraft part, using the FibreTemp technology. Researchers have demonstrated the potential of the out-of-autoclave manufacturing technique to produce complex aircraft components from low-weight composites using a much more energy-efficient process. While the process for such parts needs optimisation, application to less complex parts is close to commercialisation. Technologies developed along the way for process monitoring and control, analysis, simulation and integration represent important opportunities for exploitation and strengthening of the EU manufacturing community. The need for greener air transport and increasing competition should ensure that IRIDA technology receives a warm welcome from the aerospace sector. Surface and sea transport stand to benefit from adoption of the technology as well.
Autoclave, aircraft, manufacturing, composite parts, aerostructures, FibreTemp