Hawthorn Composites awarded structural inlet duct manufacturing contract 

Manufacture of inlet ducts for Kratos unmanned combat aerial vehicle involves an automated dry fiber overbraiding process, VARTM infusion and oven cure.
#braiding #automation #outofautoclave


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XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned combat aerial vehicle.

Photo Credit: Hawthorn Composites

It was announced on Feb. 1 that Hawthorn Composites (Dayton, Ohio, U.S.) manufacturer of high-performance, complex geometry, structural composites (and Spintech Holdings’ new composites manufacturing business division) was awarded a structural inlet duct manufacturing contract from Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. (San Diego, Calif., U.S.) to provide twelve inlet ducts for the XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned combat aerial vehicle.

The twelve structural inlet ducts will be made using Smart Tooling’s (Xenia, Ohio, U.S.) shape memory polymer (SMP) tooling, combined with overbraiding from A&P Technology (Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.) and resin infusion. This process includes using an automated overbraiding process to apply dry fiber to a rigid SMP Smart Tool that acts like a mandrel during cure. The dry fiber braid is then processed with a low-cost epoxy and cured using a vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding process (VARTM) in a conventional oven.

Through a previous contract awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL, Dayton, Ohio, U.S.) to Cornerstone Research Group (CRG, Miamisburg, Ohio, U.S.) and Spintech Holdings, Inc. (Dayton, Ohio, U.S.), the structural inlet duct was converted from hand-applied carbon fiber prepreg and an autoclave cure to dry fiber overbraiding onto a Smart Tool, VARTM infusion and an oven cure. Characterization from the Air Force Research Laboratory quantified a 67% reduction in labor required for part fabrication, which translated to a part cost savings while only increasing the component weight 0.2% over the baseline component.

”We are extremely grateful to Kratos for the opportunity to provide both a tooling and a composite manufacturing solution for this program. Kratos has been a great development partner and we look forward to continuing our collaboration to service their needs,” says Tom Margraf, VP, Engineering, Spintech Holdings Inc. “Leveraging automated layup techniques, resin infusion and an oven cure, in conjunction with Smart Tooling, allows us to fulfill the Hawthorn Composites promise; We Will Deliver High-Value Complex Composites.”

Manufacture of the structural inlet ducts began in October 2020 and will conclude by September 2021.