Bristol Aerospace, Boeing collaborate on out-of-autoclave technology

Early results indicate that out-of-autoclave processing produces composite parts that compare favorably with in-autoclave parts.

Bristol Aerospace (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), a division of Magellan Aerospace, in collaboration with Boeing Research & Technology and the Composites Innovation Centre in Winnipeg, reported on June 15 that it has completed a research program to investigate out-of-autoclave processing for potential use in composite aircraft components. These composites can be cured in an oven under a vacuum bag with no additional external pressure applied. Next-generation out-of-autoclave composites that offer performance comparable to traditional materials are now being developed by suppliers. The goal of the project was to demonstrate that an out-of-autoclave process could be used to fabricate components that would satisfy the strict requirements for aerospace grade parts.

The study focused on potential applications for one commercially available material. Manufacturing trials were conducted at Bristol's Winnipeg plant in its state-of-the-art Composites Manufacturing Centre. All three partners were involved in inspection to assess the quality of the final test articles. "Our first attempt to produce a generic part using an out-of-autoclave manufacturing process proved to be a great success," said Shawna Boyko, project manager and composites engineering technical specialist at Bristol. "Inspection and coupon testing of the demonstration article showed good compaction and virtually no voids, exceeding typical quality requirements by a fair margin."

Based on positive results from the current program, Bristol intends to continue exploring alternative manufacturing methods for composite structures. Vice president and general manager Don Boitson stated, "Innovative manufacturing technologies such as out-of-autoclave processing presents an opportunity for us to reduce production costs while maintaining a high level of quality, increasing the value we provide to our customers."

The success achieved in this project encourages further collaborative research to include additional composite formulations and methodologies to ultimately match the properties of autoclave cured structures with the lower costs of out-of-autoclave curing.