Composites manufacturer Spirit Aerosystems has developed a new production technique intended to slash production times and costs.
Out-of-autoclave (OOA) manufacturing has long held promise for industries that require large composite parts, such as aerospace and wind power, and Spirit says it is now deploying the technology on research and manufacturing projects.
The company produces fuselage and nacelle components for a wide range of commercial aircraft, and believes it is now on the verge of making them 40% quicker and at up to half the cost.
"Instead of curing components at a standard temperature for hours at a time, we can now tailor the cycle time to match individual part geometries," says Stevie Brown, lead engineer at Spirit's Advanced Technology Centre in Prestwick.
"The autoclave has been a bottleneck in manufacturing lines, and removing it will reduce cycle times for components, cut production costs and decrease energy consumption."
Another advantage may be easier maintenance.
For its OOA process, Spirit uses a multi-zone heated tool that enables complete control of composite curing through real-time monitoring and feedback. Components produced in this way may be field repairable because they won’t need autoclaves to re-cure.
This may come as a relief for airlines and maintenance providers, who have noted that increasing composites use in parts such as nacelles have pushed the envelope for performance at the expense of reparability.
On the other hand, some in the industry have noted that new composite fabrication techniques allow the creation of more complex components that can be harder to repair.
Spirit has develop its OOA technology in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.