Elaborate computer modelling of autoclave curing of large composite structures has identified ways to optimise the process to cut up to one-third from curing times.

Working with Airbus and nacelle maker Aircelle, engineering consultancy Frazer-Nash has successfully predicted satisfactory curing in greatly reduced times. According to Frazer-Nash civil aerospace business development manager Glyn Norris, Airbus testing validated its computer-generated model of an optimised curing process, pointing the way to reduced cycle times and environmental impact.

Typically, said Norris, production times are based on "standard" estimates of how long it takes for an autoclave to fully cure a component - much as chefs would estimate how long it takes to cook a roast. But by carefully analysing the physics of curing, it is now possible to determine the necessary curing time far more accurately.

Optimising autoclave performance will be crucial to achieving the high production rates needed to build a next generation of narrowbody airliners with large percentages of composite materials. Norris said Frazer-Nash's work with the UK's composites technology development programme is likely to suggest that although out-of-autoclave curing techniques, including microwave curing, can reduce reliance on autoclaves, these large, expensive ovens will continue to play a key role in composites production.

Source: Flight International