In 2010 Quickstep teamed with Vector Composites on a research project to demonstrate the ability to cure CYCOM 977-3 unidirectional epoxy prepregs to aerospace standards. These processes were accepted, and now the project has moved to the next phase – preparing laminate parts for testing. Test results are expected by summer 2015.
Quickstep also is making inroads in the automotive sector with its resin spray transmission process (RST) process, an automated, fast-cure system for composites requiring a Class A surface. “There are companies in Europe that we’re working with to create OOA parts,” says Luedtke. “This process hasn’t taken off in the U.S. yet because it isn’t under the same pressure as Europe, but it’s the goal.”
A Look Ahead
OOA is evolving to address application problems ranging from part size, manufacturing costs, part quality and curing time. It also is adapting across sectors, including aerospace, automotive, renewable energy, consumer electronics and even farm equipment. However, in order to keep up with the growing demand for composites across industry sectors, manufacturers need access to more CFRP. “CFRP is being sucked up by the aerospace industry and not a lot is left for everyone else,” says Luedtke. “Because they can’t access high-quality carbon fiber, companies are turning to natural fibers such as jute and hemp, and natural resins such as corn, soy and even cashew shells.”
Casterline adds that training also is important to the growth of OOA applications. “There needs to be overview education for middle and senior management, technical skills training and possibly an industry standard certification for technicians,” he says.
Perhaps the most successful demonstration of large out-of-autoclave manufacturing is the Air Force Research Laboratory-Lockheed Martin X-55A Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft. Using a Dornier 328 cut off behind the cockpit to bypass new flight control expenses, Lockheed Martin added a 60-foot composite fuselage comprising eight pieces. This allowed the company to manufacture a military transport representative airplane in only 18 months while adhering to a $50 million budget.