The Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research (Columbia, S.C., USA), a University of South Carolina center, is partnering with Ingersoll Machine Tools (Rockford, Ill., USA) and has acquired a production-level automated fiber placement machine (AFP) for use in developing new lightweight composite structures. The machine has 16 0.25-inch/6.45-mm wide tows.
The AFP machine — the first of its kind to be used in a university research setting — represents the core of the McNair Center’s advanced composite manufacturing laboratory. The laboratory is designed for science-based aerospace engineering, educational programs in support of industry research, and the production of emerging materials technology.
“Advances in technology have created the ability to steer fiber within components to make them stronger where they need to be, lighter where they can be, and more flexible than ever,” says Martin Keaney, executive director of McNair. “The acquisition of this production-level AFP machine will get us closer to our goal of becoming the research center of choice for aerospace in the United States.”
The McNair Center, which opened in 2011, has more than two dozen contributing researchers working in a wide range of aerospace-related research fields. The goal of the partnership is to develop and commercialize new technology, processes and methods and take products to market through licensing agreements. Ingersoll is a global leader in advanced machine tools and its technology is widely used in aerospace, energy and transportation production.
The partnership between the McNair Center and Ingersoll is a six-year collaboration that will support open and propriety research for aerospace industry clients. Use of the Lynx AFP—the same machines that manufactures 70 percent of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s fuselage —will allow for the manufacturing of complex, full-scale composite material prototypes. It also can be used as service center and process improvement lab for fiber steering technology used in aerospace, renewable energy and host of other industries.
“We’re pleased that our technology will be used in a university-based research setting, expanding the boundaries of what can be achieved with fiber steering technology. This type of research is crucial in advancing the science behind developing the next-generation aerospace components,” says Tino Oldani, president and CEO of Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc.
The Lynx AFP, which is being acquired through a lease/purchase agreement, will be ready for use at McNair this summer.