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Airtech

NIAR Composites Lab Expands Capabilities

02 July 2008

The layup room in the National Institute for Aviation Research’s Composites and Advanced Materials Lab is expanding its range of operations.

The layup room has existed for several years, and has recently experienced several modernizations and capability and procedure updates under the management of Allison Crockett, NIAR research engineer and program manager.

The layup room’s current workload is made up of about 30 percent from the aviation/composite manufacturing industry and 70 percent from government entities like the FAA and the NIAR-Industry-State (N-I-S) research program.

“That is quickly flipping, because we’re getting more and more companies wanting us to fabricate their qualification or equivalency panels, as they’re having a hard time getting people to do it in a timely manner,” Crockett said. “Every month we’re getting another industry request, it seems.”

Crockett credits that growth in part to several industry courses on composite materials that NIAR and Wichita State University’s College of Engineering have offered over the past four years. To augment lectures on a variety of topics related to composites manufacturing and testing, the classes have always included hands-on training in the layup room—and that’s the first time a lot of the industry professionals in the class even realized the room existed, Crockett said.

What they’ve discovered upon arrival is a “clean room” with a large walk-in freezer, the most current bagging materials available, a controlled environment, and vacuum lines throughout the room, to optimize space and time. The lab has two large lamination tables for performing hand layup of resin-impregnated fiber forms (prepreg).

In large part, the wet layup process at NIAR is used to perform repairs on panels being tested in FAA programs like “Effect of Repair Procedures Applied to Composite Airframe Structures” and “Aging of Composite Aircraft Structures” or N-I-S programs such as “Repair of Composite Structures” and “Composite Bearing Allowables Baseline.”

By client request, NIAR’s layup room has also performed resin transfer molding (RTM) and filament winding. Crockett hopes to be able to perform more of these types of manufacturing processes as well as more of their “specialties” when the Composites Lab gets space at the new National Center for Aviation Training at Wichita’s Jabara Airport. The training center is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2010.

“The plan is to move the entire layup room out to Jabara, where we will to have more than 5,000 square feet of layup space, two large ovens, two large autoclaves, a Gerber cutter, a big walk-in freezer and an even more controlled environment with more air filtration,” Crockett said. “We’ll have the capability of laying up three times the number of panels and offering a lot more courses.”