Aerospace sector set to benefit from industrial research collaboration
A £3.8m industrial research collaboration is set to have a significant impact on the worldwide aerospace industry by speeding up the production of composite materials.
Composite materials are used increasingly in aircraft, with the demand growing on a global scale, but the rate of production is hampered by the speed at which the composites can be inspected during the manufacturing process.
Materials such as carbon fibre composites are also put to use in other areas such as wind turbine blades because of their exceptional strength, superior physical properties and increased mechanical performance.
Initially, composite materials were only used in secondary structure but, with the development of materials, their use in primary structures such as wings and fuselages has increased to the extent that in some aircraft they account for around 25% of the weight. Composite components and reinforcements are also being more widely used in aircraft repair technology.
A four-year research project led by TWI Wales is designed to speed up the inspection process by 400% using advanced non-destructive testing technologies.
IntACoM (Improving the Inspectibility of Aerospace Composite Materials), which has had funding from the Welsh Assembly Government, involves an industrial collaboration with Rolls-Royce, GKN Aerospace and Bombardier Aerospace, with academic support from Swansea University, Swansea Metropolitan University and the University of Wales.
Launching the project, Lesley Griffiths, Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills, said it had the potential to make a significant contribution to industry, specifically the aerospace sector. “It’s great news to hear that Wales is leading the way on the research and development of highly sophisticated technologies with the potential to make a significant impact on the production of composites.
“I am particularly pleased the Welsh Assembly Government is supporting this research and that Wales is taking the lead and working with major players in the aerospace sector and benefiting from academic support from our Universities.
“Our Economic Renewal strategy highlights the need to build upon the expertise that exists within Welsh universities and businesses to harness the commercial opportunities of innovation and research. This is a good example of such collaboration between the private and public sector and between industry and academia.”
Philip Wallace, Regional Manager of TWI Wales, which is based in ECM2, Port Talbot, explained that the advancement in composites had not been equally matched by an advancement of inspection capability.
“Composites inspection is a difficult and highly complex area but is not yet sufficiently developed to meet industry needs. The time it takes to carry out inspections at different stages of the manufacturing process is actually hampering and slowing down the entire process.
“Our aim is to increase the process by 400% without losing reliability or sensitivity and, once we have developed the inspection technology at the manufacturing level, we will further develop testing and inspection capabilities for in-service maintenance and repair.”