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Engineers at the University of Ulster are taking part in a project to determine how 3-D woven textiles can be used to make components for the next generation of aircraft structures and aircraft engines.
Essentially the project involves the weaving of the carbon fibre to the required thickness and shape in one operation and then injecting it with resin to produce the composite part.
The project team will also be devising computer systems on which the woven materials can be created and tested in a virtual environment, thereby reducing manufacturing times and costs.
The project, sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry in the UK, acknowledges the University’s position as the leading research centre in 3-D woven fibre preforming.
Dr Justin Quinn, Director of the UU’s Engineering Composites Research Centre (ECRE), said: “We are taking textile weaving techniques and applying them to aerospace engineering technology to develop the potential to weave components for the next generation of aircraft and aircraft engines”.
“We are one of a very small number of people in the UK who can weave these complex woven architectures on traditional weaving machinery. By transferring this technology into the aerospace industry we will create a productive relationship between the textile and aerospace industries. In the longer term this could go some way to reviving the textile industry which has suffered a severe downturn in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK”.
Working with Dr Quinn on the project are Dr Alistair McIlhagger, Dr Edward Archer and Dr Margaret Morgan, all from the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering.
Among the types of components which could be created from the 3D woven carbon are wing ribs, stringers (the main structural parts of wings), structural stiffners for multi-body components and engine components.
Dr Quinn added: “Composites made using materials such as woven carbon fibre have the potential to be lighter and stronger than traditional metals, meaning that aircraft can be manufactured more quickly, carry bigger payloads, use less fuel because they are lighter, fly faster and fly greater distances.”
Two of the most recent headline grabbing aircraft the 555-seat super-jumbo Airbus A380 and the Boeing Dreamliner 787 both make extensive use of composites.
“Greater use of composite materials means the manufacturers have a lot more flexibility in designing aircraft. In the case of the Airbus it means the manufacturers have been able to design the biggest commercial aircraft. In the case of the Dreamliner the plane has been designed to be leaner and faster than others in its class.”
The other partners in the project include the Universities of Nottingham and Bristol, Rolls Royce, Dowty Propellors, Advanced Composites Group (ACG), Deep Sea Engineering and Sigmatex, a high-tech fibres company.
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