The new process, which results from more than two years of collaboration between the two companies, uses lasers to remove sections of damaged material, while leaving intact the remaining healthy fibers and resin. The technique does not apply force or vibration to the structure, so it does not affect the structure's overall strength or integrity. After the laser treatment, the area where damaged material has been removed is left clean and ready for repair. This is done with a replacement patch, which is cured in place using a localized heating mat.
SCLR Lasertechnik specializes in using lasers to selectively remove coatings. The company performs surface preparation of machined parts for painting or gluing, as well as surface activation of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic and glass fiber-reinforced plastic composites, and removing paint in both types of composites. (Watch videos showing SCLR's surface preparation and paint removal of composite parts here.)
In the statement, John Cornforth, head of technology at GKN Aerospace, says:
With the first installation of this prototype equipment we are now commencing work on extending the ability of this new process to handle various shapes and sizes of structure. We believe this process has enormous potential; composite materials increasingly dominate the airframe, meaning their reliable, effective repair is critical for operators and the industry, alike. This technology will allow the efficient, cost-effective and high-quality preparation of almost any composite assembly for repair.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Optomec's third America Makes project for metal 3D printing teams the LENS process company with GE Aviation, Lockheed, and other big aerospace names to develop guidelines for repairing high-value flight-critical Air Force components.
A self-propelled robot developed by a team of researchers headed by MIT promises to detect leaks quickly and accurately in gas pipelines, eliminating the likelihood of dangerous explosions. The robot may also be useful in water and petroleum pipe leak detection.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has built and successfully hot-fire tested an entire 3D-printed rocket engine. In other news, NASA's 3D-printed rocket engine injectors survived tests generating a record 20,000 pounds of thrust. Some performed equally well or better than welded parts.
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