OOA also allows for faster production of parts.“Long-term success of carbon fiber [reinforced polymer] will require higher rate production methods not possible with autoclave,” says Brosius. “For example, the build rate for next-generation fighter aircraft will increase to one per day, which is well above historical production rates.” He adds that the next iteration of the Boeing 737 will need to be produced at rates of 45 per month, much higher than the Boeing 787’s required production of 15 per month. “To create lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft, the next generation will also have a very high composite part count,” says Brosius. “And that puts pressure on every level of the composite manufacturing supply chain.”
Curing times are the industry’s biggest bottleneck, says Michael Rauscher, chief technical officer of NONA Composites in Dayton, Ohio. The company’s name is an abbreviation for the solutions it offers – no oven, no autoclave. “To hit higher production rates and drive down cost, we must address curing times,” he says. It is such an important issue to manufacturers that companies are sending employees to trade shows in search of new OOA processes, says Benjamin Luedtke, technical manager for Quickstep Composites.
This doesn’t mean that OOA is the silver bullet for further composite adoption. Each market segment requires qualifications for new products and materials, and these qualifications mean an investment in both capital and time. On the scale of testing stringency, aerospace ranks highest, taking years to approve a new material and/or process, then automotive, renewable energy and other growing markets, such as consumer electronics and medical equipment. “If the volumes are low, qualifying a new process may not be worth it,” explains Brosius.
OOA Advancements and Applications
French company RocTool, with U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., has been at the forefront of innovative OOA systems. The company uses induction heating to create aerospace parts and internal car parts, such as textured trim pieces for the new Mini Cooper. A growing part of its business is in consumer electronics, where RocTool won an industry award as part of the Motorola Mobility team for the composite rear housing of the new Motorola Moto X smartphone.