More companies join NASA’s Advanced Composites Consortium

The project’s goal is to reduce product development and certification timelines by 30 percent for composite aircraft.

Collier Research Corp. (Newport News, Va.) is now a member of NASA’s Advanced Composites Consortium (ACC), marking the only software company in the ACC. Also new to the ACC are Aurora Flight Sciences of West Virginia, Orbital ATK, the University of South Carolina McNAIR Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, and the Wichita State University National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR). The original group formed in 2015 and includes NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC), FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, The Boeing Co., General Electric Company (GE), Lockheed Martin Corp., United Technologies Corp. and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) – ACC Integrator.

The ACC aims to bring better composite material analysis, design, and manufacturing into practice to help maintain American leadership in aviation manufacturing. The consortium was formed by NASA in support of the Advanced Composites Project, which is part of the Advanced Air Vehicles Program in the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. The project’s goal is to reduce product development and certification timelines by 30 percent for composite aircraft.

“The push to take weight out of structures designed for flight is leading to a greater use of composites in the aerospace industry,” says Craig Collier, president of Collier Research. “As these advanced materials are more complex to certify than metals, the use of automated, integrated analysis and design-performance optimization is critical—from the earliest stages of development all the way through manufacturing—to ensure that composites are used most effectively and certified for flight most efficiently.”

Craig Collier has been appointed cooperative research team (CRT) leader of two ACC initiatives: rapid tools and design for manufacturing.

“Rapid tools are important because the bulk of aircraft design development and structural certification analysis revolves around them,” says Collier. “The design maturation process spans several years. Shortening this long portion of the schedule will have a huge impact on the aircraft production timeline.

“Design for manufacturing includes technologies such as robotic automated fiber placement (AFP) and curing processes during the analysis and optimization design phases. Merging these technologies early and iteratively will help engineers improve quality and consistency in laminate fabrication, resulting in fewer defects and streamlined certification.” 

Collier Research’s HyperSizer was the first software to be commercialized out of NASA. It has been used on many projects for the U.S. Space Program (such as the Orion Crew Module) and by many aircraft manufacturers—including Spirit AeroSystems, which designed a fuselage for the Bell V-280 Valor defense helicopter prototype for the Department of Defense’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR TD) program.