In the latest issue of Composites Manufacturing, we discussed the future of Out-of-Autoclave (OOA) and Out-of-Oven (OOO) manufacturing with several companies at the forefront of these processes. OOA and OOO applications are increasingly important for a variety of manufacturers, including NASA and the military.
John Russell of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio delved deeper with Composites Manufacturing Interviews on the adoption of composites in the Air Force as well as the latest developments in (OOA) and (OOO) composite manufacturing.
What role does OOA have in military applications today?
The Department of Defense (DOD) is currently evaluating project needs. A lot of decisions are determined by the federal budget. There are studies being done on the next-generation of mobility airplanes, bombers and fighters. The DOD will determine if “new” aircraft or upgrades to existing ones are needed. If the military requires new aircraft to replace C-5s and C-17s or a replacement for the B-52 or B-1, then OOA is a great solution because of the large size of those aircraft. However, if it’s a fighter plane, I don’t see the need for OOA because the parts are small enough to use the existing autoclaves in the industrial base.
What is driving the demand for that OOA?
The big benefit of OOA is that you can make bigger parts than you could in the largest autoclave. Not only is equipment size a drawback but cost of the equipment is also an inhibitor. In 2007, NASA looked into what it would cost to acquire a 40-foot diameter autoclave, and the cost came out to $100 million including installation. For the number of parts needed at that size, the cost is not justifiable and OOA meets the need.
What is the most successful demonstration of large OOA in the Air Force?
One of the most successful demonstrations of a large OOA-cured structure is the AFRL-Lockheed Martin X-55A Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft (ACCA). Using a Dornier 328 cut off behind the cockpit to bypass new flight control expenses, Lockheed Martin added a 60-foot, eight-piece all-composite fuselage. This allowed the company to manufacture a military transport representative airplane in only 18 months while adhering to a $50 million budget.
In addition to the success of the ACCA, other examples include Boeing’s Phantom Eye that had a significant amount of OOA including the wings, which were rather long. Overall, there is a lot of work being done to make large parts through OOA.