What could be a major advance in repairing composite structures bodes well for commercial aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350XWB, which contain composites in large proportions of their structures. The new method combines robots and lasers to make repair more consistent and less expensive.
GKN Aerospace, which is the first UK company to use one of the British National Composites Centre's new automated fiber placement machines, is also pioneering the use of robotics in composites repair. GKN Aerospace is one of Boeing's composite aerostructure suppliers.
A major advance in repairing composite components bodes well for commercial aircraft that contain composites in large proportions of their structures, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, shown in South Carolina as the first one built there is rolled out. (Source: Boeing)
In conjunction with its program partner SCLR Lasertechnik GmbH, GKN Aerospace is deploying laser technology to automate repair. The company said in a statement that repaired structures have the same strength as can be achieved with current manual repair techniques, but repairs are more consistent and cost as much as 60 percent less.
Manual repair techniques typically involve time-consuming grinding away of damaged structures. The new robotic cell, housed at GKN Aerospace's composites research center in the UK, is the first prototype robotic machine that uses laser technology to remove damaged composite structures on aircraft.
Composite repairs cannot be fully checked for quality via visual inspection like conventional repairs. I often wondered how they plan to handle this problem. And well, of course, let a robot do it - they are consistant and have no bad days.
William, I assume that this technology relies on very precise control of the laser to work. There must be some new advances in laser focus or control to make it possible. It is, becuase of the results you mention, not an obvious choice, but someone has figured out how to make it work (werk?).
Wow! Thanks for this, Ann. It's often the obvious solutions that are the most frustrating. The use of dirty, violent abrasive cutting techniques on composites is such an obvious no-no when it comes to disturbing the fiber alignment and potential of layer separation in non-damaged portions of the material. I'm guessing previous attempts to cut fiber/resin composites with a high-power laser resulted in either a puddle of goo or a fire. Kudos to Lasertechnik for developing an appropriate combination of laser power, frequency, modulation, and beam profile for use with composites. This will have wide applications.
Rob, keeping planes in service longer is certainly one of the benefits hoped for from this new technology. The primary benefits, though, are getting them back into service faster, lower cost, more consistent repairs, and techniques that don't shorten a plane's service life by damaging composites during repair (the lack of force or vibration applied to the structure).
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