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Composites are coming

With the increasing use of composites in large civil aircraft, is composite parts production creeping up
on unsuspecting metal machinists? Andrew Allcock investigates

“C ompared with aluminium,

composites should offer like-for-like
weight savings of up to 10 per cent,there
aerodynamically speaking,and can be
swapped for existing aluminium
their aluminium counterparts.
Fortron PPS is,according to Ticona’s
technical account manager,Peter
is no fatigue problem,so a design life of Celanese AG’s technical polymer Radden,the only thermoplastic certified
20,000 hours could become 100,000 operation,Ticona, says composites have for use in civil aircraft high-performance
hours,and maintenance requirements assembly benefits. So in the A320,for applications. First used on the A340-500
should be lower.Those are the three main example,“only 96 individual parts have to and -600 models,its use is growing with
drivers,” says GKN Aerospace Services’ be joined together instead of the 2072 the A380 using 5 to 10 tonnes versus the
technical director,Phil Grainger,for the parts in an analogous aluminium A340’s one tonne,says Mr Radden. So,the
uptake of carbon fibre reinforced plastics construction”.And only two construction A380’S entire fixed wing leading edge (J-
(CFRP) in civil aircraft – and of which elements made of its high-performance
thermosets are the most prevalent type. thermoplastic CFRP Fortron PPS are
But he adds that additional benefits are needed for a 5.5 m long wing section for
that they can be moulded into complex the A340 – instead of the original five
shapes,have a higher specific strength aluminium components.These plastic
than aluminium,have a good surface – parts are also 20 per cent lighter than

Major monolithic CFRP and thermoplastics application

Vertical tail plane Tail cone
Wing CFPR, ATL for torsion Solid laminated
Glass box and rudders CFRP, AFP
J-nose Upper deck Horizontal tail plane
Outer flaps floor beams CFRP, AFP for torsion
CFPR, ATL CFPR, pultrusion box and elevators
Wing ribs

Un-pressurised fuselage
Solid laminated CFRP, AFP

Engine cowlings

Centre wing box Landing gear doors Flap track Rear pressure bulkhead
CFRP, ATL Solid laminated CFRP panels CFRP, RFI
Source: Airbus
CFRP, RTM non-crimped fabrics
AFP Automated fibre placement RFI Resin film infusion
ATL Automated tape laying RTM Resin transfer moulding
CFRP Carbon fibre reinforced plastic PULTRUSION Continues CFRP pulled through a die

MACHINERY 20 February 2004 ●


nose) – 30 m-plus – will be manufactured fuselage – made of composite materials. Quite clearly,the ‘primes’like Airbus
from thermoplastics,which have good According to Heraldnet last and Boeing are changing the way they
impact resistance, are impervious to December ( put aircraft together.And these large
chemical degradation,while parts can be headquartered in Everett,Washington, composite parts require automated
easily joined by welding. close to Boeing’s large plant),composites machinery to lay up the CFRP material
Overall though,the A380 will be 20 will change the way Boeing builds onto the formers,moulds or over
per cent by weight composite (all types), planes,and impact its suppliers. Boeing honeycomb fillers,while larger
but future aircraft generations could be will build about 37 per cent of the new autoclaves (pressurised ovens) are
up to 60 per cent composite,says Ticona. plane in-house.The rest – including,for required to cure the parts,in the case of
the first time,the wings – will come from thermosets.The use of composites will
COMPOSITE ‘FIRSTS’ suppliers.And the entire fuselage also affect suppliers by reducing the
The A380,scheduled to enter service in cylinder,excluding the nose and rear,will amount of aluminium work and
2006,will be the first large civil aircraft be a single composite structure. increasing the amount of composite
with a carbon fibre central wingbox – a Instead of a 3,000,000 parts,there’ll be work. So Machinery went looking for signs
weight saving of up to 1 1/2 tonnes (inset fewer than 10,000. Instead of 5000 of these impacts.
picture,page 13).A monolithic (single- assembly workers for a 747,there’ll be 800 Cincinnati Lamb is a world leader in
piece) CFRP design has also been for the 7E7.And a three-week build the manufacture of fibre placement (tow
adopted for the fin box and rudder,for the period will become three days. placement) and tape laying machinery
horizontal stabiliser and elevators,upper Also driving composite uptake is the ( – tape laying
DebutArt: Peter Crowther

deck floor beams,and rear pressure Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project (see machine,picture below).
bulkhead (see diagram,below,left). Machinery,16 January,page 10) of which Chip Storie,Cincinnati Lamb vice
Boeing’s 7E7,due to enter service in some 2450 are to be built for the US and president aerospace sales,says that the
2008, will be the first commercial jet ever UK,with export sales possibly doubling trend is for the composite parts to
to have a majority of the primary that. Some 40 per cent of its structure is become larger. It is currently developing
structure – including the wing and composite materials. a Viper 6000 fibre placement machine –
the company had to “stretch”its Viper
3000 to support Airbus,Spain’s
manufacture of the A380’s rear fuselage –
the largest CRFP rear fuselage ever
produced (see picture,page 12/13). ● MACHINERY 20 February 2004

Not only larger,but faster machines cent of structures production is still
are needed. Manual lay-up of composite carried out by the prime contractors.
tapes/tows is in the order of 1-2 lbs/hour. There is still considerable growth
Current machines can lay around 15-20 potential available to companies able to
lbs/hour. Cincinnati is aiming to up capitalise on the outsourcing
speed,but Mr Storie will not be drawn on opportunity.”
a target figure,only offering that it is
“critical to dramatically increase speed” UK SPECIALIST
for the 7E7 project. In the UK,Darwen,Lancashire-based
GKN Aerospace Services’Mr Grainger Brookhouse Patterns is a specialist in
emphasises the need to increase speed if making tools for composite lay-up,with
companies in the West are to compete its associate,Brookhouse Composites,a
with lower labour cost countries. GKN specialist in composite parts
makes the CFRP trailing edges for the manufacture. Brookhouse Composites
A380 and has recently developed large also makes metal parts, paints and
composite winglets for the European assembles for companies like Airbus,
AWIATOR research project while also making replacement parts for
( company has the Canberra bomber,for example.
machines for laying up composites “but Using hand lay-up techniques,
not at the performance level required”, investment in tape/tow lay-up machinery
admits Mr Grainger. is not discounted,but part volumes in
But for the A380 parts,he says that the civil aerospace are not high currently,says
company ( invented a Brookhouse Composites’sales manager,
new process that reduced the Terry Unsworth.
manufacturing cost significantly. Having Recent investment within the two
done that,the company is about to companies has concentrated on tooling
embark upon a research programme – and lay-up facilities.This has included a
with hoped for Government support – large autoclave (13.2 m length) and a Above, this A380 rear fuselage is
that has speeding up tape laying as one of new clean room to support greater the largest such structure yet built
its targets. Mr Grainger suggests that a volumes of lay-up,while two Correa five- in CFRP. Right, the A380’s CFRP
figure of 40 lbs/hour may be achievable. axis milling machines have been wing box – another first
Crucially,automated tape/tow laying installed to focus on tooling
is not destined to remain only a ‘prime’ manufacture. being acceptable,says GKN’s Mr Grainger.
activity. Spanish equipment maker The company does undertake a But as CFRP is used more and more for
MTorres ( says it has limited amount of composite machining. structural parts – such as spars – the need
already supplied such machinery to tier 1 When machining composites in house, to machine to close tolerances will
suppliers,and Cincinnati Lamb’s Mr strong local dust extraction is employed become more common,he says.The
Storie,says that some entrepreneurial job to keep the dust away from machine alternative process of moulding high-
shops are beginning to look at the slideways,electrical cabinets and people. precision parts – Resin Transfer Moulding
process.“The equipment costs are For some trimming tasks the company (also undertaken by Brookhouse
coming down and are now in a range that puts lay-ups out for water or laser edge Composites) – is too expensive to
progressive job shops are used to paying trimming. consider everywhere,he says.
for their metalcutting machines. It’s not There has been a concern in the In fact Cincinnati Lamb was
the capital investment,it’s knowledge of industry about delamination with water machining a CFRP spar for “a large prime
the technology and experience that they jet cutting,offers Mr Unsworth,“but while manufacturer of aircraft" in January
don’t have,” he offers. some concern remains,the paranoia that when Machinery called.
But primes must first decide to put existed has decreased.” Brookhouse As for GKN:“Nearly all the work we
this work outside.“That’s a bridge that Composites may install robotic routing are bidding for has machining as part of
OEMs have yet to cross. But when rates equipment in the future,he adds,and he it,” Mr Grainger offers.And it’s an area in
increase with JSF,for example,the capital believes that laser-based machining is the which the company has made gains
investment will be huge and at some future. during the AWIATOR programme,but
point the OEMs will say ‘we don’t want to For panel-type parts,there is not a where it reveals little process detail.“One
tie our capital up in this way’,” he says. high proportion of milling required,the of our excitements with this project was
GKN agrees:“Approximately 80 per as-moulded tolerances of 0.03 inches that we machined CFRP parts to

MACHINERY 20 February 2004 ●


Fundamentally,says Mr Grainger:“Over As for milling,for limited numbers of

the next three years,we have a plan to parts,the company uses conventional
significantly reduce the cost of carbon milling cutters,but for higher quantities,
fibre product made in our factories.” specials are used,and this involves a
grinding approach. GTC uses 1 inch
AMERICANS CUT IT diameter cylinders coated with 25
The use of special abrasive cutters is diamond grit.Around the cylinder are
something with which General Tool relief slots,not flutes.“Brazing the grit has
Company (GTC - of proved better than nickel plating.There’s
Cincinnati,US is already acquainted.The more of the grit available to cut as the
235-man aerospace job shop has been bond coating is less.The tools last longer
machining CFRP since the mid-90s,when and they don’t clog so easily as there’s
it first machined the GE90 engine fan more space for the slurry,” says Mr
Airbus - left and below

blade root – the GE90 powers Boeing’s Wilkerson,and the company is currently
777 aircraft and is the only commercial developing cutting data standards for
turbofan engine using an all-composite these tools.
fan blade. Flushing is a big issue,underlines Mr
GTC is also now Kramer,and GTC uses water plus rust
involved with GKN inhibitor. But the need to change from
Aerospace Services’ soluble to this water-plus-inhibitor mix is
Alabama operation, a time-consuming exercise,he adds.
undertaking CFRP Machine tool slideway contamination is a
cutting. But CFRP further problem,and a gantry-type
machining is still a small graphite milling machine with raised
proportion of what it slideways is considered a likely solution.
undertakes,although it is GTC does not see itself becoming
the fastest growing involved with composite lay-up at the
element.And the most moment.“I think we should master
prevalent work now is JSF composite cutting before considering
parts machining. that,” suggests Mr Kramer.
Even before cutting In investigating the cutting of
challenges, however, aerospace CFRPs,Machinery was unable
tolerances of 0.005 inches.And we also GTC’s Greg Kramer observes that the first to unearth any centre of excellence in
drilled 3000 holes to such an accuracy problem is estimating how long a job is the US,Spain or UK – none of those
that every one of them lined up with its going to take as there are no readily spoken to could instance one. It all seems
mating part.” available speeds and feeds data,while it to be inside companies and proprietary.
He observes,though,that cutters for is not possible to discern material But it’s not an area ignored by cutting
machining composites are modelled on properties until the part arrives – there tool makers. Indeed,two well known
metalcutting milling cutters “which is odd being no material standards and related cutting tool companies undertaking
for a material that you do not cleave to properties as there are with metals. research in this area did not wish to
cut.You need a grinding wheel,but Estimating tool life is another issue.All of reveal their hands at this time.
wheels clog. So we think that we need a which is why there are few companies Brookhouse Composites’Mr
high-speed dust removal abrasive system, willing to take on composite machining, Unsworth does highlight that the North
and that is also part of our research”. says Mr Kramer. West Aerospace Alliance’s
University of Rome investigations Drilling presents fewer problems than ( recently
( milling,and for 3/8 inches and smaller,says established Aerospace Innovation Centre
indicate that he’s right. Earl Wilkerson,the company uses will have a composites focus. Indeed,AIC
During the AWIATOR project,Mr International Carbide Corporation’s and the Northern Aerospace Technology
Grainger says the company improved its WonderDrill ( For Exploitation Centre held a meeting on 3
cutting speed performance by a factor of holes larger than 3/8 inches,the company February at UMIST,Manchester to discuss
five. However,the research is aiming for uses a hole saw with a diamond abrasive a regional composites initiative.
25x faster. Currently the company cuts coating. Slots are put in the tool to allow There can be no doubt that the
both wet and dry,there being arguments slurry to escape,with a pecking action composites challenge is creeping up on
on both sides he offers. allowing its further dispersal. metalcutting companies. M ● MACHINERY 20 February 2004