Smart composite tool for out-of-autoclave applications

Partners:

University of Strathclyde
Spirit Aerosystems

Start date:

August 2015

Duration:

18 months

Project abstract

The goal of this project was to develop a manufacturing tool capable of curing composite parts that is not reliant on an autoclave. This would significantly reducing capital cost and cycle times together with a reduction in energy consumption greater than an order of magnitude compared to the incumbent autoclave technology option.

CENSIS supported the collaboration with £50,000 of funding, as well as project management and monitoring expertise from its team.

Project Impact

The project has found a new, more cost-effective method of producing composite parts, replacing the traditional autoclave “curing” process with an intelligent and tailored heating tool. The process could dramatically cut operating expenses and reduce cycle times by 40%.

An autoclave in use

In an industrial context, autoclaves (see the image) are vessels used to process materials in a mould at high pressures and temperatures. They typically ‘cure’ high-performance components, placing the part in a vacuum within an autoclave and then applying a combination of pressure and heat during a pre-determined cycle – typically two hours at the cure temperature. The result is a high-strength, lightweight component for use in a range of high-value manufacturing sectors, predominantly aerospace.

Normally, these parts are cured for a standard period of time, at a set temperature, regardless of how they are responding to the curing process. The consortium in Prestwick has improved on this by creating a tool that removes the need for an autoclave, which typically represents around US$4 million in upfront capital expenditure, while allowing users to monitor and match a cure cycle to a component’s geometric characteristics and how it is reacting to the process.

Not only has the initiative created a unique curing process, it has also developed an entirely new capability in the UK for a number of supply chains. Depending on a component’s geometry, the project could reduce operating costs by as much as 50%, through reduced CAPEX, factory space and energy consumption, while cutting cycle times by up to 40%.

Read the full press release.

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