SETEC 01/-06: The SAMPE Europe Toulouse Conference

The European branch holds its first standalone technical conference in the heart of Airbus country.

The Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering's (SAMPE) European Chapter has traditionally held an International Conference in Paris each spring in conjunction with the JEC Composites Show. This year, it decided to hold an additional technical conference in the autumn. It was no coincidence that the first SAMPE Europe Technical Conference and "Table Top"Exhibition (SETEC 01/-06) was held at the Centre de Congr�s Pierre Baudis in the city center of Toulouse, France, the home of Airbus Industrie – the aircraft manufacturer sponsored the event and, more importantly, provided many of the speakers. Toulouse is, surely, the most beautiful center of aircraft production in the world.

SETEC attracted 180 attendees, including 21 exhibitors. About 10 percent of the visitors were from outside Europe, hailing from Canada, the U.S., Japan and as far away as Australia. Present at the two-day event (Sept. 13-14) were Ray Miller, SAMPE's recently installed international president, and Gregg Balko, the executive director from SAMPE's office in California. The meeting's theme was "State-of-the-Art Materials and Technologies for Next Generation Aircraft."As con- ference chairperson, I was pleased to see that the papers conformed to a very high standard – three of the presentations introduced concepts that were completely new to most of the conference audience.

The first paper was given by H. Speckmann from Airbus in Bremen, Germany. The subject was "Structural Health Monitoring."What was new to me was the use of detailed data on potential crack growth in a structure, to allow designs to be nearer optimum and thus save weight. Current certification rules require that aircraft be designed so that cracks, even in the most heavily used aircraft, will not propagate to dangerous levels between inspections. However, if one is able to monitor cracks as they develop during the service life of the aircraft, then designs can be optimized and weight and cost saved.

Another presentation, from Rowan Paton, IP manager of the Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Composites Structures in Victoria, Australia, described a process he developed to weld together thermosetting composites. The clever part is the inclusion of a thermoplastic layer in the laminates of the thermoset component in the areas where they are to be joined. After curing, the parts are then welded together, with most of the thermoplastic interface material absorbed into the epoxy matrix. This produces a very thin joint with no obvious boundaries between the thermoplastic and thermoset materials.

EADS Composite Research Centre in Suresnes, Paris, presented the use of carbon "z"pins in a novel way. P. Lebure described how pins could be inserted into a joint where laminates meet at right angles. Under testing, the pins progressively pulled out from the laminate under stress, absorbing energy as they did so, thus producing a very benign failure mode.

Not all the papers were from the EADS group. Composites end-users Dassault Aviation and Eurocopter joined Airbus in discussing several new composites that already have been implemented successfully. Serge Dellus, head of the Advanced Technology Development department at Dassault, started by presenting historical data on a carbon/epoxy wing that had flown, without problems, for 27 years on a Falcon 10 jet. He then moved on, however, to the company's most recent achievements, a multispar vertical stabilizer and an undercarriage door made by a one-shot RTM process developed at Dassault's facility in Biarritz, France. These components are fitted to the new Dassault 7X aircraft, which has been flying for more a year.

Eurocopter presented its work on liquid composite molding (LCM), a technique now used in the production of a fenestron (fully enclosed fan-tail helicopter rotor), blade, two fuselage beams (including one more than 2m/6 ft long), and a tubular stabilizer beam. Eurocopter's Dr. Christian Weimer, project coordinator, technology, explained that the key to making these parts economically was the development of a machine to automatically assemble and stitch the preforms. This machine is now in series production on both fenestron blades and the composite door hinge arm that Eurocopter makes for Airbus.

A paper from EADS/Airbus offered a potential next step in the incorporation of composites into aircraft structures. As we approach the stage where all the obvious airframe structural components will be converted to composites, it remains that 50 percent of the structure is still made of metal. Much of this remaining metal is in the heavily loaded joints. The paper described the use of ultrathick laminates (UTL) in one such joint, the attachment fitting of the undercarriage side stay where it meets the rear wing spar. The program was part of the "ALCAS"FP6 CEC-funded project and involved both the EADS Corporate Research Center in Ottobrunn (Germany) and Airbus in Filton (U.K.). Marcus Siemetzki, manager, composite design concepts at Ottobrunn, explained that the objective was to use vacuum-assisted processing (VAP) to impregnate laminates ranging in thickness from 40 mm to 80 mm (1.6 inches to 3.1 inches). The materials chosen were RTM6 (Hexcel, Duxford, U.K.) and NCF from Saertex (Saerbeck, Germany). These are approved Airbus materials, but their use, historically, has been limited to comparatively thin structures to avoid microcracking. New, longer cure cycles were developed to make good-quality parts with 80-mm-thick sections. A series of structural elements was developed to demonstrate various features and an analysis was undertaken to produce a component design appropriate for composites. As can be seen in the photo on p. 22, the design was simplified to aid manufacture in composites.

A highlight of the event was the conference dinner, of the type that only occurs in France's culinary centers of excellence, such as the Toulouse area. On Sept. 13, a beautiful early autumn evening, attendees travelled into the countryside to visit the Orangerie de Rochemontr�s restaurant in the small village of Seith. The meal – six courses – and accompanying wines was both a social and gastronomical delight. At the dinner, Richard Forster, Airbus' manager of TANGO and Russian projects, was presented with a plaque to commemorate SAMPE's thanks for his support in organizing the event.

SETEC 02/-07 will take place Sept. 6-7, 2007 at The Universidad Politechnica de Madrid, in Madrid, Spain. To request further information, submit a paper and/or reserve a tabletop in the exhibition, contact SAMPE Europe's Sabine Kauer, E-mail: