Airbus hopes to be able within two years to use a new bonding method being developed by Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Composite Structures (CRC-ACS).

Thermoset composite welding (TCW) speeds assembly of carbon/epoxy components by combining the rapid welding potential of thermoplastic composites with the versatility and lower cost of carbon/epoxy prepregs.

During layup, a layer of thermoplastic is incorporated in the surface of components to be joined. The thermoplastic and thermoset polymers intermingle before the heat cure is complete, providing a strongly attached thermoplastic surface on the thermoset composite laminate.

Then, during the welding process these laminates can be rapidly joined, providing a robust joint with less sensitivity to aggressive environments than adhesive bonded joints, says Melbourne-based CRC-ACS, which expects the process to cut component costs by 10%.

Airbus expects dramatic cost reductions in aircraft assembly if the technique can be made to work in load-bearing applications.

Airbus is initially looking at the use of TCW for brackets and attachments, but sees potential for other, more ambitious applications such as attaching stringers to panels, says Dale King, Airbus senior manager for international research and technology partnerships.

Airbus hopes the technology will be mature enough in one or two years for initial use in small-scale non-load bearing applications. By 2015 Airbus should know whether TCW will work for more substantial applications, says King.

Airbus but has recently become a full partner in the CRC-ACS government-industry research organisation and is working with other Australian research organisations in a number of areas, including structural health monitoring and the use of sustainable bio-sourced materials. One technology of particular interest is laser-assisted machining of titanium, says King.

King describes Airbus as working to understand the strengths of Australia's technology sector: "There is potential here [in Australia] that hasn't properly been tapped."

Source: Flight International