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2/24/2014 | 3 MINUTE READ

ATK Aerospace wins Air Force contract for composites inspection research

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ATK Aerospace will work with the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) and Ingersoll Machine Tools on the development of an on-tool inspection system for automated fiber placement (AFP).


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The National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM, Blairsville, Pa., USA) announced on Feb. 24 that after a competitive solicitation process it has selected ATK's Aerospace Structures division (Clearfield, Utah, USA) as its partner for phase two of a project for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Ohio.

NCDMM was awarded the effort to oversee the development of a system to automate an inspection method to detect defects in components for aircraft produced by automated fiber placement (AFP). The automated inspection system project is part of a 2012 Defense-Wide Manufacturing Science and Technology (DMS&T) program awarded to NCDMM through the AFRL at Wright-Patterson AFB. For phase one of the project. NCDMM has been working with Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc. (Rockford, Ill., USA) on the development of an on-tool inspection system for AFP.

With phase one development nearing completion, NCDMM extended invitations to a select group of suppliers to participate in a competitive process to partner with NCDMM and Ingersoll Machine Tools in the beta site implementation testing of the automated inspection system during AFP production. NCDMM chose ATK as its partner.

"In assessing the responses, ATK clearly demonstrated extensive AFP experience and has a proven track record of supporting the production and development of AFP programs," says Jim Fisher, NCDMM director of operations. "Additionally, ATK is building hardware for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which will allow our inspection system to be tested and compared side by side with the baseline manual inspection process. On behalf of all of us at NCDMM, along with Ingersoll Machine Tools, we look forward to installing the system at the ATK facility and getting the three-month testing phase underway. I am confident that the results of ATK's beta testing will help us to make any necessary refinements and move closer to transitioning and implementing the inspection technology to support higher speed AFP operations."

Joy de Lisser, general manager of ATK's Aerospace Structures division, says, "ATK is excited to work with NCDMM and Ingersoll Machine Tools to continue to develop leading-edge technology in fiber placement machines through automated inspection. This opportunity enables ATK to demonstrate our ability to deliver highly engineered, innovative products for our customers."

While AFP machines are designed and programmed for proper placement of tows carbon fiber prepreg, when the tows are deposited onto a tool by an AFP machine to form a composite structure, potential problems inherent to composite production can occur. As such, the fibers must be thoroughly inspected against a stringent set of criteria.

Under current inspection practices, production must be interrupted after each ply. Personnel visually inspect and manually perform measurements, identifying such defects as missing or twisted tows; gaps between tows; inaccurately placed tows; bridging, wrinkles, or splices; and foreign objects and debris. Manual inspection is time consuming, laborious, and visually tedious as defects are difficult to discern. Inspectors must also document and track all defects.

With the automated system, inspections occur in real-time while the composite structure is being fabricated, alerting the operator and allowing defects and anomalies to be detected and repaired during the fabrication process. The developed system also includes an electronic database system to electronically document and track defects.

On behalf of Ingersoll Machine Tools, Dr. Tino Oldani, president and CEO of Ingersoll adds, "I extend my congratulations to ATK on being selected by NCDMM to test and implement our system on a production aerospace structure, using an AFP machine, in one of its production facilities. The automated inspection system we developed has been shown to work in a laboratory test environment and we look forward to the system being proved in a more thorough production environment on actual aerospace hardware to confirm the reliability of the system." 


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