The material, as yet unnamed, is a woven ceramic fabric with a ceramic matrix that has a coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) comparable to carbon fiber, remains stable at temperatures up to 1,000°C/1,832°F and can be produced in thicknesses as thin as 3 mm/0.12 inch. The material features an integrated thin-film heating element, can be used with most processes (including vacuum infusion and autoclave) and could provide an out-of-autoclave solution thanks to its high-temperature threshold.
The material has been under development for the past decade, and more earnestly in the last two years. Initial efforts with the material focused on producing tooling from blocks of the ceramic/ceramic, but these proved too heavy. Eventually a thinner laminate version was developed that radically reduced weight while retaining the material’s high-temperature tolerance. Jones estimates that the working surface of a tool about the size of a conference table, 3 by 6 ft (1.1 by 3.3m), would typically weigh 15 to 20 kg (33 to 44 lb) plus 100 kg/220 lb of support structure, whereas a comparable Invar tool would weigh between 250 and 2,500 kg depending on the tool design and geometry of the component to be formed.
Three tools are being trailed right now, one each with BA Systems and The Boeing Co., and a third with an unidentified firm. The next step is development of full production tools.