GKN Aerospace (Isle of Wight, U.K.) reportts that it is harnessing leading-edge laser technology to automate the repair of composite structures. The company says that the repaired structure has the strength of current manual repair but is achieved with greater consistency and 60 percent cost reducton.
With program partners SCLR Lasertechnik GmbH (SLCR), GKN Aerospace has installed the first prototype robotic machine using laser technology to remove damaged composite structure on aircraft. The new robotic cell, housed at GKN Aerospace’s composites research centre in the U.K., replaces the time-consuming, manual grinding away of damaged structure with a precise, contact and vibration-free laser removal process
John Cornforth, head of technology at GKN Aerospace, comments, “With the first installation of this prototype equipment we are now commencing work on extending the ability of this new process to handle various shapes and sizes of structure. We believe this process has enormous potential; composite materials increasingly dominate the airframe meaning their reliable, effective repair is critical for operators and the industry alike. This technology will allow the efficient, cost effective and high quality preparation of almost any composite assembly for repair.”
Olav G. Schulz, managing director of SLCR, adds, “The newly designed system is the outcome of more than two years intensive collaboration and we are proud of the results achieved already. It is strong motivation for us to continue this program with GKN Aerospace and we invite potential users to participate.”
The new process uses lasers to remove damaged material, leaving the remaining fibers and resin intact. The technique applies no force or vibration onto the structure and so has no detrimental impact on its overall strength or integrity. The affected area is left clean and ready for repair using a replacement patch which is cured in place using a localized heating mat.
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The teams are still working on the design but the aircraft is expected to have a wingspan of about 3 feet and will be made of double ply, carbon fiber.