Thermoplastic composites on tap for the A30X, new process in testing

French research group Technocampus EMC2, working with EADS and Coriolis, has developed a fiber placement system for the manufacture of a demonstration composite panel for the fuselage on a next-generation A320.

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A new technology called Flash TP made its debut Feb. 4 at Technocampus IMC2 (Nantes, France). The €1.5 million ($2.13 million USD) automated fiber placement machine for thermoplastic composites is located at Technocampus EMC2, a research and technology center focused on new composite materials implementation. The Flash TP program was funded by EADS (Leiden, The Netherlands) and two of EAD’s divisions, Airbus (Toulouse, France) and Astrium (Paris, France), as well as corporate research and technology unit Innovation Works (IW, Paris, France and Munich, Germany). Also among the project partners is the Ecole Centrale de Nantes, which will numerically model the thermal/mechanical characteristics of the materials and parts.

According to Technocampus, the machine will enable R&D teams from each of the three divisions of EADS to identify the advantages and disadvantages of thermoplastic technologies and thus validate the choice of technology best suited to the design of future aerostructures, including those used in space launch vehicles. Toward this end, each of the financing partners will use the machine in the coming months to produce a demonstrator part. The first will be an A30X (next-generation A320) double-curvature lower fuselage skin measuring 5m/16 ft long by 1.6m to 2m (5.3 to 6.6 ft) in radius, made from 20 plies of high-strength carbon and PEEK or PPS matrix.

Coriolis Composites (Queven, France) developed the machine. Its laser heating head, designed by Irepa Laser (Illkirch, France), has been modified to make the thermoplastic tapes flexible for precision application via a silicone roller. The head is mounted on a KUKA Robotics (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) robotic arm, which moves longitudinally on fixed rails. EADS cites economy as a driver for the thermoplastic system. Use of thermoplastics eliminates the need for frozen storage and autoclave processing currently required for thermoset prepregs, which increases productivity. Because thermoplastic prepreg is not tacky, it leaves no residue to clog tools or machinery. That fact, Technocampus officials report, has made it unnecessary to stop the machine for maintenance during the first six months of trial service.