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The Airbus A350 XWB, which is the first Airbus to be over 50% composite, includes all composite primary structures built with Hexcel carbon fibre and prepreg, is due to make its maiden flight.
Hexcel says it secured the A350 XWB contract by developing a complete composite proposal including carbon fibre prepreg and associated products. Hexcel’s experience in Intermediate Modulus carbon fibres was used to design HexTow IMA to Airbus requirements. The HexPly M21E prepreg resin matrix was developed by its chemists to ensure that the very high performance properties in the fibre were fully optimised in the cured prepreg laminates.
According to Hexcel, the A350 XWB composite structures built by Airbus and the Tier 1’s using HexPly M21E/IMA include entire fuselage panels, keel beam, the entire wing (covers, spars and center wing-box) and empennage. The A350 XWB Lower Wing Covers are the biggest single civil aviation parts ever made from carbon fibre, measuring 32 meters long by 6 meters wide.
To meet the increasing demand for HexTow carbon fibre, new lines have been added at Hexcel’s PAN precursor facility in Decatur, Alabama, US; new carbon fibre lines have been commissioned in Salt Lake City, Utah, US; and Hexcel built its first European carbon fibre manufacturing plant in Illescas, Spain.
To produce the vast quantities of prepreg required for the A350 XWB, Hexcel explains that it introduced a new model for the cost-effective large scale production of prepreg, producing resin film in a continuous process to very tight aerial weight tolerances in Duxford, UK which has improved the quality, accuracy and consistency of the resin film. Hexcel is also expanding its prepreg matrix capacities at its Salt Lake City, Utah, US facility.
The resin film from the UK is converted into UD prepreg at Hexcel facilities in France, Spain, Germany and the US from where it is supplied to nearby Airbus facilities and the Tier 1s throughout Europe and the US. It says this has resulted in a highly effective supply chain model for prepreg production, which benefits the customer and Hexcel, resulting in shorter lead times, greater responsiveness, reduced transportation of materials, point of use delivery, less packaging, reduced inventory and less requirement for cold storage space.
“We are very much looking forward to celebrating the A350 XWB first flight later this year” said Nick Stanage, Hexcel President and COO. “Since we were awarded the contract by Airbus back in 2008 we have delivered on our commitments by investing in Hexcel’s global capacity as required for the A350 and other aircraft programs. Our expansion has been successful because of our close cooperation with Airbus and their global partners. The combination of advanced technology and operational excellence is the foundation for our business at Hexcel and I wish to thank our Hexcel team, suppliers and valued customers who are working on the A350 program for their dedication and commitment.”
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