Aircraft giant Airbus (Toulouse, France) and prominent members of the Dutch aerospace industry recently extended their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for strategic cooperation in technical research. Operative since 2005, the MOU opened the way for a collaborative research effort centered on advanced thermoplastic composites. The extension was signed in Toulouse on March 26 by Fabrice Brégier, COO of Airbus, and three representatives from The Netherlands: Hans Büthker, president of Stork Fokker AESP (Hoogeveen); Frank Meurs, managing director of TenCate Advanced Composites (Nijverdal); and Dirk Starink, chairman of the Netherlands Aerospace Group (Zoetermeer).
The extension ensures that collaboration between Airbus and the Dutch aerospace industry will continue on the Thermoplastic Affordable Primary Aircraft Structure (TAPAS) Project, facilitating further exploration of new materials. TAPAS is expected to demonstrate design techniques and manufacturing and assembly processes for continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastics applicable to large primary aircraft structures. Thermoplastic technology will be developed further, specifically for future Airbus applications, including primary structures such as fuselage and wings. The Netherlands Agency for Aerospace Programmes (NIVR) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs have been closely involved in the development and establishment of the partnership between Airbus and the Dutch group, which includes not only industrial companies but research institutes and universities. The project will be an integral part of the Airbus research strategy. According to TenCate, six additional Dutch private companies and research/academic institutions are expected to join TAPAS within a few weeks.
Stork Fokker AESP informs HPC that one R&D effort initiated before the formation of TAPAS, Stork’s new thermoplastic automated fiber placement (AFP) technology, is now expected to benefit from the group’s efforts. Instead of the hot gas torch or laser technology used on conventional fiber placement equipment to melt and consolidate the placed thermoplastic tape, Stork has developed an experimental AFP system that uses an ultrasonic welding device in a continuous operating mode (see illustration in opposite column). Based on early test results, the company is considering further investment in the technology because it appears, according to Stork Fokker’s director of research and development Arnt Offringa, to work “very well.” Offringa discussed the ultrasonic fiber placement technology for the first time publicly in the context of a technical paper at the recent IIR conference “Composites and Lightweight Structures in Aircraft,” held in Hamburg, Germany on May 6-7.
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The project’s goal is to reduce product development and certification timelines by 30 percent for composite aircraft.