Exploring the Manual Forming of Complex Geometry Composite Panels for Productivity and Quality Gains in Relation to Automated Forming Capabilities
In a variety of industries there is a growing need to manufacture high quality carbon fibre epoxy matrix composite structures at greater production rates and lower costs than has historically been the case. This has developed into a desire for the automation of the manufacture of components, and in particular the lay-up phase, with Automated Tape Laying (ATL) and Fibre Placement (AFP) the most popular choices. When used for large primary structures there are such potential gains to be had that both techniques have seen rapid implementation into manufacturing environments. But significant concerns remain and these have limited their wider adoption into secondary structure manufacturing, where manual forming of woven broadgoods is dominant. As a result the manufacture of secondary structures is generally explored for costs reduction through drape simulation and lower cost materials.
At the end of 2006, two MTorres engineers visited the plant of Airbus UK in Filton receiving a new challenge: Find a more efficient way to manufacture Carbon Fiber Spars for the new A350 program. The range of possibilities were wide: manual infusion methods (RTM, RIM, RFI...), Automatic Taping & hot forming, or the new technology proposed, Fiberplacement or AFP. Two (2) options were considered: hot forming+ATL and AFP (both using prepeg technology.) The usage of a flat lay-up + hot forming technology was used in the only Airbus program that used carbon fiber for the wing manufacturing so far, the A400M. The expected greater complexity of A350 spar created doubts on the feasibility of using the above process, while the AFP technology, consisting of laying up directly on the final shape of the spar, also raised questions of technical feasibility, apart from the economic ?business case?, in case the productivity of the cell was not big enough. A ?Spar team?
The foundation of many production aircraft assembly facilities is a more dynamic and unpredictable quantity than we would sometimes care to admit. Any tooling structures constructed on these floors, no matter how thoroughly analyzed or well understood, are at the mercy of settling and shifting concrete, which can cause very lengthy and costly periodic re-certification and adjustment procedures. It is with this in mind, then, that we explore the design possibilities for one such structure to be built in Belfast, North Ireland for the assembly of the Shorts C-Series aircraft wings. We evaluate the peak floor pressure, weight, gravity deflection, drilling deflection, and thermal deflection of four promising structures and discover that carefully designed pivot points and tension members can offer significant benefits in some areas.