Spirit AeroSystems announced on Thursday its Advanced Technology Centre in Prestwick, Scotland has developed an improved method for manufacturing composite parts, including wind turbine blades.
Working in partnership with the University of Strathclyde and the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS), Spirit developed anintelligent heated tool for curing composite components, replacing the traditional autoclave “curing” process.
The new "intelligent and tailored" heating tool could cure composite parts, from wind turbine blades to car panels and composite aircraft, 40 percent faster, reducing operating costs and reducing cycling times, reports CENSIS.
“Instead of curing components at a standard temperature for hours at a time, we can now tailor the cycle time to match individual part geometries,” Stevie Brown, lead engineer at Spirit’s Advanced Technology Centre in Prestwick, explains.
“The autoclave has been a bottleneck in manufacturing lines, and removing it will reduce cycle times for components, cut production costs and decrease energy consumption.”
New tool replaces autoclave curing
Typically, large industrial autoclaves are used to process materials in a mold at high pressures and temperatures. Basically, the part is placed in a vacuum within an autoclave and then a combination of pressure and heat is applied during a predetermined cycle – usually taking two hours after the cure temperature is reached.
This method has been used for years, with parts cured for a standard period of time, at a set temperature, regardless of how they respond to the curing process. The new "smart" tool does away with the need for the autoclave process, allowing users to monitor and match a cure cycle to a component’s geometric characteristics and how it is reacting to the process.
CENSIS supported the collaboration with funding and provided project management. The University of Strathclyde provided technical support and developed the control algorithm and software for the intelligent tool, according to North American Wind Power. Spirit says the collaboration will continue through 2018 with the new technology being applied to research and manufacturing projects.