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.
J.Lombard, thanks for such a clear summary of this complex issue (and sub-issues). I'd sure like to find out more about your company for use in possible future articles. Can you contact me by email? I can be reached at email@example.com.
It is amazing to see new technologies developed in my lifetime come to to forefront of engineering in action. This new material did not exist at the beginning of my career, and now they are using it in huge airplanes in place of aluminum. Wow, that was fast! And now they have automated repairing the stuff! It's great to be an engineer!
Wow, engineering methods never cease to amaze me. The application of robotics to repair composite materials for aircraft is an awesome idea. With latest innovations in machine vision technology, robots can assist in spotting defects in aircraft structures particularly composite materials. This concept of using robots to repair aircrafts reminds of the scene in Star Wars The Phantom Menance where the R2 units were deployed to repair a damage space fighter while engaged in battle with the Imperial Fighters. Truly Amazing!
I agree with JL. While this is a cool gadget you'd still need a human for judgement and only part of the process.
If I get it right it evaporates the resins leaving the fibers. That would take 1k deg F likely not to damage CF or glass. If Kevlar types it would destroy them as the resin.
I'd not just slap a patch on that as resin must reinfuse completely to good resin. Possibly a weak area of not quite vaporized resin would block the new resin from mating.
There are many technics to access damage and repair it without such high priced robots.
Ann, Speaking of recycing plastics just where online is the article on turning plastics into diesel, gasoline? It's the article I've learned more I need than most of the rest here combined. I got it in print, here is it online?
Jerry, thanks for asking about my upcoming May feature article on turning recycled plastics into fuel. The feature articles you see in the print edition usually appear online a few days later. Watch for it!
Boing has com out with many very innovative systems over thee years and unfortunately only they for the most part can use or own them mainly due to excessive implementation costs. For the rest of us in the aviation industry reality is that this will boil down to the newest ie cheapest labour a angle grinder and not much more. The repairs will be safe but not as lightweight or perfect. Even today simple repairs such as this involving rights and alum patches are commonly sent to third world countries where thee labour rates are much cheaper. You can pay a mechanic $50 an hour or send to costra rica or Belize and spend a small fraction. Its done all the time and perfectly legal.
Interesting, KingDWS. I didn't realize aviation repairs were getting outsourced to low-cost labor markets. Do these low-cost sites have to produce skilled technicians. Are there regulations governing the quality of these repairs?
In theory the shops and people or someone has to have the same certifications as up here. You only need one person with the right tickets to sign things off and that's legal. This has been going on more and mores since about the 80"s and perhaps longer that's when I started. Put it to you this way, have you ever flown south on what seemed like a old rattly hunk of junk and then a week later fly north on a nice fresh one. Most of these shops do the very expensive major checks and inspections, the fuel cost is actually not much of a factor to get them down there even when flown empty. Like I said the robots are cool but cheap labor rules.
The normal work being done are the major checks which are very labor intensive or repairs such as corrosion that require a lot of labor as well. These type of operation usually require the airplane to be almost stripped bare during the repair. The day checks are normally done at the airlines maintenance facility or regional facility these are fairly minor compared to other inspections or repairs. These shops and repairs still need to be done according to the book so they are licensed and the materials are the proper ones. The ones I would worry about are from peru columbia a few other places those are not exactly reputable repairs (I'd rather walk :-) )
Unfortunately the whole industry is very cost driven so this is going to become more common.
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