Expanding OOA Markets
OOA is not a magic bullet, it is just another tool composite manufacturers have at their disposal to make products at a desired quality and price. “We have seen large parts being made with OOA, but we have also seen people that are well-versed in OOA techniques choose to go autoclave for structural thick parts because the risk is too high and doing multiple debulks every six to 10 plies – along with added NDT inspection costs – is just too much work,” Cichon says. He does see continued opportunities in unmanned aerial vehicles, sport aircraft and business jets.
Boeing believes that OOA will continue to grow and will both replace currently autoclaved parts as well as open up opportunities for other types of parts, including replacement of metals, according to Bond.
Outside of aerospace, manufacturers are using OOA to produce aftermarket auto parts, consumer electronics, recreational and industrial equipment, and tooling. “When you’re fabricating industrial parts, users might be able to live with void contents higher than one percent (a current aerospace standard) since the part may not be as weight critical as aerospace. As such, if they have strength knockdowns from using OOA processes, they can offset those variations by making the part thicker or stronger,” says Cichon.
Dietsch believes there could be market opportunities for OOA in trucks, heavy transportation and infrastructure. “But the cost has got to come down, and people have to get comfortable with it,” he says.
Autoclave will not disappear. “There’s an adage that we have in the aerospace industry that pressure is cheaper than brains; I think we will always have autoclave or pressurized technology processes,” Dietsch says. “I really see things like OOA and some of these other technologies that we are working on as maybe not displacing something that exists. It’s more creating new markets and growing the use of composites in those markets.”