A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

24. August 2016

From super strict diets (looking at you, Tom Brady) to doing three-a-days, five days a week (LeBron 'King' James), athletes are always looking for an edge in sports. Well, a startup believes that you can add carbon fiber shoe insoles to that list. VKTRY Performance Insoles combine ‘aerospace-grade’ carbon fiber with a foam cushion that reportedly can help improve an athlete’s performance. These carbon fiber insoles weigh less than 30 grams and are less than 1mm thick. The company claims that unlike shoe insoles that are made from a foam or plastic material, these carbon fiber insoles are specifically designed to store the energy that would normally be wasted and direct it toward the ground, which can increase the speed or vertical jump while improving energy efficiency. The patented shape and engineered carbon fiber layering maximizes ground force to help propel an athlete in any direction.

Matt Arciuolo, the inventor of the VKTRY Performance Insoles, is a board certified pedorthist specializing in pain management and performance enhancement using custom orthotics and footwear. He told CW that he first got the idea when working with the U.S. Olympic Bobsled & Skeleton teams as they explored ways to make the bobsledders faster in the “push” position. They looked to design shoe inserts that would store and return energy so that the athletes could have a more “explosive start” and win more races. They experimented with various materials but had problems with both wearability and longevity.

“We didn’t want it to be obtrusive and if it’s too bulky the shoes won’t fit,” he says. “The design challenge was to get something effective and not have it be cumbersome.”

Eventually, they designed a carbon composite insole with ‘specific layering’ to fit in the ice spikes. Once the product was proven to work for the Olympic athletes, Arciuolo says they turned their attention to other sports. He received a patent for the design in 2015 and while they had previously made the product overseas, they brought the work to the U.S. in 2016. The shoe insoles aren’t a 'one size fits all' but instead are made in different degrees of flexibility based on athlete size (weight and foot size) in order to provide customized and optimized athletic performance.

The insoles can be used any sport where the athlete relies on efficient ground contact to move—football, baseball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, track, etc.—and are currently being used by professional, college and top-tier high school athletes. For example, the San Francisco 49ers have introduced the insoles to its players and the insoles have been endorsed by Gary Vitti, head trainer of the LA Lakers for the past 32 years.  

Right now the insoles are targeting the elite athletes market but Arciuolo says that they’re working on a cheaper model for the average consumer.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

24. August 2016

As humans venture deeper into space, habitation structures will be an important part of their living environment. NASA is working with six companies on development of deep space habitat designs.

It's not hard to imagine, when humans venture into deep space, that composites will be along for the ride in a variety of structures, ranging from space craft to the very structures in which humans will live. Along those lines, NASA has selected six U.S. companies to help advance the journey to Mars by developing ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats.

Through the public-private partnerships enabled by the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement, NASA and industry partners will expand commercial development of space in low-Earth orbit while also improving deep space exploration capabilities to support more extensive human spaceflight missions.

The selected companies are:

  • Bigelow Aerospace (Las Vegas, Nevada)
  • Boeing (Pasadena, Texas) 
  • Lockheed Martin (Denver, Colorado)
  • Orbital ATK (Dulles, Virginia)
  • Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems (Louisville, Colorado)
  • NanoRacks (Webster, Texas)

“NASA is on an ambitious expansion of human spaceflight, including the Journey to Mars, and we’re utilizing the innovation, skill and knowledge of both the government and private sectors,” says Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems. “The next human exploration capabilities needed beyond the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are deep space, long-duration habitation and in-space propulsion. We are now adding focus and specifics on the deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth.”

The six partners will have up to approximately 24 months to develop ground prototypes and/or conduct concept studies for deep space habitats. The contract award amounts depend on contract negotiations, and NASA has estimated the combined total of all the awards, covering work in 2016 and 2017, will be approximately $65 million, with additional efforts and funding continuing into 2018. Selected partners are required to contribute at least 30% of the cost of the overall proposed effort.

The ground prototypes will be used for three primary purposes: Supporting integrated systems testing, human factors and operations testing, and to help define overall system functionality. These are important activities as they help define the design standards, common interfaces and requirements while reducing risks for the final flight systems that will come after this phase.

NASA made the first NextSTEP selections in 2015, which include deep space habitation concept studies that also advance low-Earth orbit commercial capabilities. Four companies were selected under that solicitation: Bigelow Aerospace LLC, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK.

This round of NextSTEP selections are part of a phased approach that will catalyze commercial investment in low-Earth orbit and lead to an operational deep space habitation capability for missions in the area of space near the moon, which will serve as the proving ground for Mars during the 2020s. These missions will demonstrate human, robotic and spacecraft operations in a true deep space environment that’s still relatively close to Earth and validate technologies for the longer journey to Mars.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

24. August 2016

Rendering of CityAirbus vehicle. (Source: Airbus Group)

Rare is the person who, sitting in a vehicle stuck in traffic, hasn't looked to the sky and wondered why we can't simply fly to work or the grocery store or the movie theater. Why, as we move around our cities and towns, are we restricted to the two-dimensional space of highways and roads?

Of course, the answer is simple: Multiple flying crafts in the airspace over a city is a recipe for disaster. We humans are pretty good at following the rules of the road easily enough and have, remarkably, few accidents to show for it. But fighting gravity in a three-dimensional space with hundreds or thousands of other craft fighting gravity in a three-dimensional space is an order of magnitude more complicated.

Still, there is no shortage of science fiction books and movies that do this very thing, and it's highly appealing. The question is, might we actually do it one day? Well, Airbus says yes, it's feasible.

What drove Airbus to explore this idea is the fact that, by 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, which is 10% more than today. And, as population density increases, so does vehicle traffic. For example, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, one day in 2014, the rush-hour traffic stretched out for 344 km. According to a study, these huge back-ups in Sao Paulo cost the Brazilian economy at least US$31 billion a year. Another study found that Londoners lose the equivalent of 35 working days per year idling in traffic.

Megacities, now and in 2030. (Source: Airbus Group)

In response, Airbus Group's A3 organization, the company’s innovation outpost, is pursuing a project coined Vahana, an autonomous flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport. Flight tests of the first vehicle prototype are slated for the end of 2017. As ambitious as that sounds, Rodin Lyasoff, project executive, insists that it is feasible: “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there.” However, Vahana will likely also need reliable sense-and-avoid technology. While this is just starting to be introduced in cars, no mature airborne solutions currently exist. “That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” says Lyasoff.

Transport service providers are one target group for such vehicles. The system could operate similarly to car-sharing applications, with the use of smartphones to book a vehicle. “We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide,” estimates Lyasoff.

At these quantities, development, certification, and manufacturing costs go down. And in terms of market entry, Lyasoff is equally confident: “In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people.” A3 is powering ahead with Vahana and as is typical for Silicon Valley, the company thinks in terms of weeks, not years. Officially underway since February 2016, the project’s team of internal and external developers and partners have agreed on a vehicle design and is beginning to build and test vehicle subsystems.

The challenge of flying autonomous vehicles over urban areas is summed up neatly by Bruno Trabel from Airbus Helicopters: “No country in the world today allows drones without remote pilots to fly over cities – with or without passengers.” The engineer leads the Skyways project, which aims to help evolve current regulatory constraints. In February, Airbus Helicopters and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) signed a memorandum of understanding allowing Airbus Helicopters to test a drone parcel delivery service on the campus of the National University of Singapore in mid-2017.

National University of Singapore will the the site of autonomous parcel delivery technology.
(Source: Airbus Group)

Parallel to the Vahana effort, for the last two years Airbus Helicopters has been working on an electrically operated rotorcraft platform concept for multiple passengers. The aerial vehicle, which goes by the working title of CityAirbus, would have multiple propellers and also resemble a small drone in its basic design. While initially it would be operated by a pilot – similarly to a helicopter – to allow for quick entry into the market, it would switch over to full autonomous operations once regulations are in place, directly benefitting from Skyways and Vahana’s contribution.

With CityAirbus, customers would use an app to book a seat on a craft, proceed to the nearest helipad, and climb aboard to be flown to their destination. Unlike Vahana, several passengers share the aircraft. The sharing economy principle would make journeys in the CityAirbus affordable. A flight would cost nearly the equivalent of a normal taxi ride for each passenger, but would be faster, more environmentally sustainable and exciting.

A third concept, called zenAIRCITY, created by Vassilis Agouridas and co-developed by Benjamin Struss – both from Airbus Helicopters – envisions a quiet, electrically operated aerial vehicle that is completely integrated into the infrastructure of a megacity. Possible platforms could include Vahana or CityAirbus. At the heart of their vision is a whole range of products and services, encompassing everything from flying taxis and luggage services to cyber security. The goal? Offering passengers a seamless travel experience.

Posted by: Sara Black

22. August 2016

Developer and manufacturer of lightweight aircraft, BlackWing Sweden, has received the highest distinction as winner of the Red Dot Award for Product Design 2016. The fuselage and wings are entirely manufactured using TeXtreme spread tow carbon fiber fabric.


As most readers of CompositesWorld know, there’s a lot happening in the area of spread-tow fabrics. If you don’t know, “spread-tow” fabrics are fabricated with carbon fiber tows that have been manipulated and unpacked to form smooth, thin, spread-out bands, which are then converted into unidirectional or woven fabrics, and prepregged in some cases, to form reinforcements with high cosmetic appeal.

Because the fibers are spread out so much, the laminates that result are very thin. The popularity of these thin materials in many sporting goods and automotive applications has soared, and aerospace OEMs have taken note. Nevertheless, aerospace adoption has been slow because of a lack of analytical tools and performance tests, particularly impact tests. A bilateral Swedish/Spanish European program, called DAMTEX, was undertaken in October 2013 to investigate the mechanical properties of thin, spread-tow fabrics, and involves AERNNOVA, Oxeon (maker of the well-known spread-tow TeXtreme fabrics), Swedish research group Swerea SICOMP, and the University of Girona’s AMADE (Analysis and Advanced Materials for Structural Design) testing laboratory. DAMTEX is part of an overarching research program in Europe called AirTN (Air Transport Net) that involves many commercial and transport aviation entities.

The data coming out of the DAMTEX project is promising (here’s a link to a Spanish presentation made at an AirTN meeting by AERNNOVA’s Jose Ramón Sainz de Aja: Oxeon’s Florence Rinn gave a presentation on the project results and Oxeon’s development of a new material form (more on that below) at the recent CFK-Valley Stade Convention in June (watch for more CW coverage on the CFK-Valley event by Ginger Gardiner). Participants worked to develop analytical and finite element (FE) models, using ABAQUS as a starting point, to predict impact damage and damage propagation in thin spread-tow composite panels made with two different weights of TeXtreme fabrics combined with Hexcel’s RTM6 epoxy resin in a resin transfer molding (RTM) process.

After demonstrating manufacturability of 55-ply -panels using 80 gsm and 160 gsm woven TeXtreme materials, extensive material characterization tests were carried out, including in-plane shear, double cantilever beam (DCB), double edge notched under both tensile and compression loading, and residual strength via compression after impact (CAI). After more than 200 coupons were tested, damage tolerance values were similar to standard reinforcements used in aerospace, while in-plane properties were better.

To improve the damage after impact performance of the spread-tow fabric laminates, Oxeon has developed a “novel” TeXtreme material, which incorporates a thermoplastic binder. According to Rinn’s presentation, the novel material shows an improvement of at least 23% in CAI residual strength at low impact energies and at least 16% improvement at high impact energies. DAMTEX partner Swerea SICOMP reported in 2015 that thin ply composites offer reduced or suppressed matrix cracking and higher strains to first ply failure, and discussed analytical models for response and damage initiation during impact, and for prediction of damage growth. Ultimately, the goal is to improve impact damage tolerance in the aerospace industry.

All of this is in line with an article I wrote in January 2013 (here’s the link: about thin, spread-tow biaxial fabrics, in which I included an interview with Dr. Stephen Tsai of Stanford University. In that article, it was clear that Tsai and Bob Skillen, founder and chief engineer at VX Aerospace, believe that “more, thinner plies make a stronger and tougher part than fewer, thicker plies.”

As you can see from the photo, spread tow TeXtreme fabrics have made it onto at least one aircraft, the Blackwing Sweden sport aircraft, and it will be interesting to see if spread tow migrates onto commercial aircraft programs.


Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

18. August 2016

GLARE, made from interlayered thin sheets of aluminum and unidirectional S2-glass prepreg, reportedly cut weight 30% vs. aluminum in 27 fuselage panels on the A380.
SOURCE: Flight Global (left) and AGY (right).

In a 2014 SAMPE Europe presentation, Christian Ruckert, head of Airbus R&T Materials & Process based in Bremen, Germany, showed the familiar graph of increased composites use in commercial aircraft with the upward arrow pointing ever higher as it passed the B787, C-Series and A350. But his commentary? Don’t bet on it.

He cautioned that the cost to develop and implement new composites technologies on upcoming aircraft will have to be much lower than what was seen on the most recent models. He then said that titanium-based additive layer manufacturing (ALM) and Glass Laminate Aluminum Reinforced Epoxy (GLARE) will see growth in future aircraft. More specifically, he noted that though GLARE usage dropped off after the A380, recent changes in automation make it lower cost vs. straight composites.  

I’m not sure anyone in the audience took Ruckert seriously. I did, however, and wrote about it (see “SAMPE Europe highlights: Composites face challenges in next commercial airframes”). Now his predictions are bolstered by Premium AEROTEC’s (Augsburg, Germany) recent presentation “New Chance for Fibre-Metal-Laminates as Hybrid Material for Mobility”.

I summarized the presentation at the end of my recent blog “Day One highlights from 2016 CFK Valley Stade Conference”. Side note with regard to Ruckert’s ALM predictions: Premium Aerotec has recently announced serial production of 3D printed titanium parts.

Fokker’s traditional, non-automated production of GLARE fuselage panels included rolling out thin (0.2-0.5 mm) aluminum sheets over layers of unidirectional S-glass-reinforced adhesive film and autoclave cure in shaped molding tools. SOURCE: Fokker.

Tier 1 Suppliers of GLARE
Premium AEROTEC makes 5 out of 27 fiber metal laminate (FML) shells for the A380. They also make the FML butt straps for the A400. They are a Tier 1 supplier with production on every civil and military program for Airbus and also manufacture parts for the Boeing 787. Described as a subsidiary of Airbus, the company’s website claims it was spun off as an independent company in 2009 by combining the EADS Augsburg site with the Airbus facilities in Nordenham and Varel, Germany. The company has >7,000 employees and grossed €1.9 billion in 2014.

Fokker Technologies (Papendrecht, The Netherlands), a division of GKN Aerospace (Redditch, UK) reportedly supplies 22 GLARE fuselage sections for the A380. It cited its role in the original development of the technology — along with TU Delft (Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands) — in its April announcement of its own program with Airbus to automate FML production (see “Fokker, Airbus partnership to focus on glass fiber/metal laminate”). Fokker’s early development is also featured in a short online Prezi slideshow by Devin Cook.

Mentioned by Premium AEROTEC as the third Tier 1 partner in the FML automation development, Stelia Aerospace (Toulouse, France) is a subsidiary of Airbus formed in 2015 by the merger of Sogerma (Mérignac, France) and Aerolia (Toulouse, France), the latter supplying fuselage panels for the A380.

Fokker's production of GLARE panel assemblies did use automated nondestructive inspection for quality assurance. Note the ply build-ups around the door opening. SOURCE: Fokker.

Benefits of FML
According to Fokker’s Innovations webpage, the 27 GLARE panels in the A380 upper fuselage cut weight by 30% compared to aluminum. In its web-published primer on bonded metal and FML structures, Fokker explains that GLARE parts are bonded assemblies, and thus can be made much larger that standard aluminum plate permits — skins spanning ≈30 m2 comprising more than 20 elements, including stiffeners.

In Fokker’s April 2016 news release, Maarten van Mourik, director for large commercial aircraft, says that FML’s better fatigue resistance means inspection intervals are shorter than for aluminum, yet it can be repaired much like metal structures.

He notes FML also beats composites on weight saving in small fuselages because the latter “carry a weight penalty, due to minimum thickness for damage tolerance.” Fokker touts GLARE as having superior bird strike resistance vs. aluminum — hence its use on all of the leading edge surfaces in the A380 tail — but yet requires less intensive nondestructive inspection vs. composites, because impact results in a visible external dent, which is a good indicator of delamination size and shape. Damage reportedly stays inside the aluminum deformation. GLARE is also praised for superior lightning strike performance vs. traditional aerocomposites, already having a conductive metal surface and interior planes without the added weight and expense of adding conductive mesh or foil.

Mourik says FML is best suited for fuselages, bottom wing skins and, as described above, leading edges of wing and horizontal or vertical stabilizers. In addition to the A380 fuselage panels, a 2011 review of FML lists Fokker 27 aircraft lower wing skin panels and the Boeing C-17 cargo door as other applications.

Meanwhile, Christian Ruckert remains heavily invested in FML. He and Tim Axford of Airbus Operations in Bristol, UK presented “Fibre Metal Laminate Lower Wing Cover Structures” at the AEROMAT 2016 conference (May 23-25, Bellevue, WA, US). They explained that high wing loading drives a lot of weight into a typical metal wingbox, motivating Airbus to explore use of FML from selective reinforcement all the way to full wingskins.

Also at AEROMAT, Professors L. B. Vogelesang and R. Benedictus from TU Delft and Prof. Jan Willem Gunnink from GTM Advanced Structures (The Hague, Netherlands) reviewed 35 years of FML research & development and applications, including lessons learned, new concepts and future outlook.

Out of Autoclave FML
Citing FML's benefits in aircraft construction, NASA Langley sought to address GLARE's traditional manufacturing issues of size limitations and expensive, labor-intensive autoclave processing by developing a vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) method (see "Fiber Metal Laminates Made by the VARTM Process").  So far, Airbus and its Tier 1s appear to be focusing on smart robotic-based automation as the manufacturing solution vs. eliminating the autoclave.


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