PARIS -- At a ceremony at JEC Composites on Tuesday, GKN Aerospace and German laser technology specialist SCLR Lasertechnik GmbH (SLCR) will sign an agreement to develop new automated laser technology that will provide improved, lower cost, and swifter repair of composite structures.
"As composite materials increasingly dominate the airframe, their effective and swift repair becomes ever more critical," says Phil Grainger, Senior Technical Director and Chief Technologist at GKN Aerospace. "We believe this laser technology offers an important route to solving significant cost issues surrounding efficient high quality repair. This new agreement with SLCR aims to deliver first generation equipment in just two years."
The two companies are working on an automated laser process that will replace the time consuming manual grinding of the composite surface currently required to prepare for bonding new materials to form the repair.
"The screening results achieved in our test program were very positive and as a result we are happy to work in partnership with GKN Aerospace to bring this development to an industrial standard," says Olav G. Schulz, Managing Director of SLCR.
The new laser process removes the material as required in the affected area, leaving the remaining material fibres & resin intact. As this is a contact-free process, the technique applies no force or vibration onto the structure and so has no detrimental impact on its strength or integrity. The area can then be repaired using a replacement patch which is cured in place using a localized heating mat. The repair has the strength of the manual repair but is far more reproducible -- and achieved in one-third the time, with a potential 60 percent cost reduction.
"As a Company we are constantly assessing the potential of new technologies and processes," says Grainger. "This laser technology has huge promise for aircraft operators and the industry, enabling efficient, cost effective and high quality repair of almost any composite assembly, with the potential for work to be undertaken in the workshop or on the aircraft."
The development program for this technology will be funded in partnership with UK government as part of the ELF (Environmental Lightweight Fan) Research Program. This program will play a major role in the comprehensive test and evaluation of the first generation repair equipment.
GKN Aerospace has installed the first prototype robotic machine using laser technology to remove damaged composite structure on aircraft.
Products on display also cover transparency support, ice protection and composite repair.
The ELF programme is being undertaken by GKN Aerospace and Rolls-Royce and is aimed at bringing new engine fan blade technologies; the plant will be based on the Isle of Wight, UK.
This new equipment will be used in Munich, Germany, to progress research work in the use of microwaves in the production of composite structures.