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Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation announced today that it has completed the acquisition and installation of a large autoclave to support its aerospace composite work.
The autoclave is located in its Clarksburg, West Virginia manufacturing plant. “Aurora’s new autoclave is a significant expansion of our capability,” said company President John Langford “It allows us to support production programs such as the Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle. It will also enable us to compete for many new aerospace contracts which in the past we haven’t had the facilities to accomplish.”
Aerospace composite materials are comprised of high strength and stiffness fibers bound within a plastic matrix producing a structure that is both very strong and very light. The fibers are typically graphite, glass, boron, or Kevlar. The binder matrix is typically an epoxy or cyanite ester resin. Composites are frequently used in the fabrication of components with complex geometries because the materials can be formed to precise shapes in molds. Composites can produce lightweight structures because the material may be tailored through careful layering and fiber orientation to achieve high strength and stiffness in specific orientations.
The composite materials must be cured at high temperature to activate the epoxy. During the curing process, the materials must be held in precise alignment and pressed tightly together. Pressures up to roughly 15 pounds per square inch can be achieved by placing the materials in a vacuum bag system. For higher pressures, an autoclave is required.
Aurora’s new autoclave can achieve temperatures up to 350 degrees F and pressures up to 105 pounds per square inch. The autoclave has a working size of: 8 feet in diameter and up to 26 feet in length. A computer controls the entire process, and an accurate record is kept of the entire curing process.
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