Report on SAMPE Europe's SEICO conference

As always, an interesting slate of presenters discussed innovative uses of composites and their march toward industrialization.

The 34th SEICO International Conference, organized by European arm of the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE), was held, as in previous years, at the Hotel Mercure Paris (Vanves), near the JEC Europe convention hall, on March 11-12. After an introduction by SAMPE Europe president Paolo Ermanni and session organizer Leslie Cohen of HITCO Carbon Composites Inc. (Gardena, Calif.), Nick Melillo and Drew Mallow of The Boeing Co. (Chicago, Ill.) took the podium to present the keynote address, with the topic “Rapid Prototyping as a Tool for Technology Insertion.” Melillo explained that for the Phantom Eye unmanned aircraft program, prototyping was key to quickly create a functional vehicle, without adversely impacting the ultimate program. Low-cost tooling, for example, was a must, since the budget had little money for non-recurring costs and the design life is short. The Phantom Eye is based on a 1980s-era Boeing project called Condor that tested high-altitude/long-endurance (HALE) operations, but unlike that earlier project, Phantom Eye is hydrogen-powered, says Mallow. The two-thirds scale demonstrator has a 150-ft wingspan, and if built as an ongoing aircraft, the production model will sport a 250-ft wingspan, with the ability to stay aloft and loiter for 7 to 10 days. First flight was June 1, 2012.

Phantom Eye has an all-composite bonded wing and fuselage structure, and a thermoplastic rudder. All parts were made out-of-autoclave, using OOA prepregs from Advanced Composites Group, now Cytec Engineered Materials Inc. (Tempe, Ariz.), with a higher-modulus material used in the wing. KVE Composites Group (Den Haag, The Netherlands) built the rudder using PEKK material, which, says Melillo, saved 10 lbs/4.5 kg over a thermoset composite design. In addition, 3D printing/additive manufacturing was utilized for most of the smaller parts on the aircraft, including air scoops and wing tip fairings, which helped accelerate the prototyping and shake-down process. Both presenters stressed that 3D additive manufacturing is a boon that should be more widely adopted for structural parts. As a final comment, Melillo wished for better properties in out-of-autoclave prepregs, like higher modulus, and called for the industry to improve virtual prototyping with computer analysis and simulation, that ultimately could save a great deal of cost in building and testing actual parts.

 The following Plenary session, chaired by Bruno Beral, highlighted several interesting papers, including one by Gion Barandun, affiliated with Hochschule für Technick Rapperswil in Switzerland. He spoke about the development of a composite annulus filler, to replace the typical aluminum part, that fills in the gap between a jet engine’s fan blades and the hub. These fillers must be very strong to withstand bird strike, foreign object damage and particularly fatigue, yet their light weight reduces rotating mass, and ultimately can make the engine safer. The composite deforms so much under load that the at-rest design is far different than its ultimate shape during engine operation. The fillers are currently molded by FACC AG (Reid im Innkreis, Austria) via RTM. Numerous questions from audience members indicated a high level of interest in the topic. Airbus’ Lars Fiedler spoke about that company’s fuselage panels designs and materials, and said that “The race between metal and composites is still open,” while Peter Lantermans of Fokker Aerostructures (Hoogeveen, The Netherlands) described a thermoplastic horizontal stabilizer torsion box developed under the European-funded Thermoplastic Affordable Primary Aircraft Structure (TAPAS) project. The torsion box utilized automated fiber placement and Fokker’s “butt joint” technology, with ultrasonic welding to partially melt the material to join the ribs and skin. Emilie Luche of Airbus, also involved with TAPAS, discussed methods for making thermoplastic fuselage panels with a new, lower-melt-temperature thermoplastic from TenCate Advanced Composites BV (Nijverdal, The Netherlands) that processes more easily yet retains mechanical strength and in-service temperature performance.

 Additional SEICO sessions focused on repair, nanocomposites in primary structure, automotive, structural health monitoring, automation, design/modeling and tooling. Keynoting the second day was Dr. Olaf Täger of Volkswagen Group Research, who spoke about that company’s strategy to significantly reduce their vehicles’ weights to meet ultra-stringent European environmental goals. He announced that VW and a group of partners are building a new pilot carbon fiber line, with German government funding, to make fiber using alternative precursors. The “Lab Factory” aims are ultimately to develop multi-material designs, says Täger, combining materials (including carbon fiber) in the parts themselves, in an “intelligent design,” using oriented carbon only where needed for loads. “We’re going to use Lab Factory to look at ways to improve the environmental footprint of carbon fiber,” he concludes. 

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