How has testing evolved to meet these growing needs?
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is conducting testing that will eventually reduce the number of specimens needed to qualify a part for aerospace applications. Its results will be considered the “holy grail” for manufacturers in the defense industry. If we can cut down the number of tests without increasing risk, it would lower the hurdle for companies to look at new materials.
What are the benefits and drawbacks to these technology methods?
There is a lot of potential within newer technologies related to OOA. One example is the option to embed sensors into a part because it is cured at lower temperature for longer time. There are a lot of unique options when considering OOA and OOO options. Another benefit is the potential for less expensive tooling. Of course you still have to have a part with the correct dimensions, but depending on the application, you might not need to invest in capital-intensive tooling and machines.
However, the bulk of suppliers currently have autoclaves and want to use them; it is an existing capital investment. In military and aerospace you also have to consider the cost to qualify new materials. For example, the DOD has been using same qualified epoxies and bismaleimides for more than 20 years. They are qualified for use on military aircraft; their properties and the way they react in autoclaves are well known so there is little incentive to try something new.
As technology continues to develop, what are new ways manufacturers are adopting these uses?
In general they are using OOA materials for prototype airplanes. You have more freedom with prototype airplanes so it is an opportunity to experiment with materials and processes.
What impact will expanding OOA/OOO adoption have on AFRL?
We hope that with wider adoption of OOA, we can widen the supply base. A company wouldn’t have to have an autoclave in order to bid to make a part. I believe that would lower production costs and allow us to go nontraditional routes and save on costs. In terms of military applications, I believe AFRL has done what needs to be done; now it’s time for us to wait and see where the industry takes it next.