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A350XWB Fiber Placement Spars; From R&D Conception Phase to Serial Production

At the end of 2006, two MTorres engineers visited the plant of Airbus UK in Filton receiving a new challenge: Find a more efficient way to manufacture Carbon Fiber Spars for the new A350 program. The range of possibilities were wide: manual infusion methods (RTM, RIM, RFI...), Automatic Taping & hot forming, or the new technology proposed, Fiberplacement or AFP. Two (2) options were considered: hot forming+ATL and AFP (both using prepeg technology.) The usage of a flat lay-up + hot forming technology was used in the only Airbus program that used carbon fiber for the wing manufacturing so far, the A400M. The expected greater complexity of A350 spar created doubts on the feasibility of using the above process, while the AFP technology, consisting of laying up directly on the final shape of the spar, also raised questions of technical feasibility, apart from the economic ?business case?, in case the productivity of the cell was not big enough. A ?Spar team? was created within Airbus and MTorres, to ?write the book? about spar manufacturing with AFP. New trajectories, new process, new problems arise as we got further into the project. As a result of the great effort put into the project, it was managed to manufacture three 10m long structural components of a real Airbus wing, using only 8tows of 6.35mm, with acceptable productivity values, and virtually with no wasted material (2% of AFP scrap rate, compared to 15-20% of ATL). During the project, GKN acquired the manufacturing division of Airbus UK, and took over the manufacturing responsibility of the Spars. All the job done in the previous years, created the perfect environment for the positioning of both companies GKN-MTorres into the launch stage of the serial production of the new Airbus plane, at that time called A350eXtra Wide Body, or A350XWB. Two state of the art AFP machines were developed at the early stages of 2009 to satisfy the serial production needs of GKN, which are currently in production and have delivered the first shipments of the aircraft to the final customer, Airbus. Further knowledge was acquired during the transfer phase from R&D to serial production. A two side mold was developed to lay in one shot both sides of the wing spars, making it possible to lay both the left side and the right side of the wing in a single step, increasing productivity by doing so, and saving tooling requirements, as only one tool is needed to manufacturing the left and the right side of the spar of A350XWB. But the achievement has not only been on European soil, as Spirit Aerosystems, a first-class supplier of Airbus and Boeing, responsible for manufacturing the front of the A350XWB Spars (GKN is responsible for design and manufacture of spars rear) has also echoed the breakthrough brought by the process to make Spars, and joined the list of customers who use a Fiberlay-up machine to produce state of the art components. MTorres has historically built customized machines that meet the specific needs of their customer. Using this philosophy, the technology developed to improve fiber placement productivity has recently been applied to an automated process for fabrication of composite structures like spars. This paper will discuss this new process and the productivity improvements made to the fabrication process for composite components of the new family of Airbus aircraft A350XWB.

Manu Motilva, Mtorres Group

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