Pilot plant for Australian company's high-speed manufacturing process to be set up at university in the UK

Australia's Quickstep Technologies has signed a deal with a UK consortium of aerospace universities and an unnamed major original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to establish a pilot plant for its composite manufacturing process at a Manchester university.

The agreement was signed last month with the Northern Aerospace Technology Exploitation Centre (NATEC), which comprises a number of universities of northern England. The group includes a major OEM, which Quickstep declines to name, but which is believed to be BAE Systems.

The agreement is part of the Perth, Western Australia-based company's efforts to commercialise its Quickstep process for manufacturing composite components (Flight International, 29 April-5 May 2003).

The Quickstep process allows the high-speed manufacture of composite materials in volumes at a cost not previously achievable using conventional autoclave processes. Instead of an autoclave, it uses a lightweight rigid mould suspended in heat transfer liquids. Liquid circulates in a low-pressure environment, with a flexible membrane maintaining constant pressure and heat on the mould to consolidate the laminate and cure the part while vibration in the circulating liquid forces out trapped air and gases.

Quickstep says the process, which is aimed at the aerospace and automotive industries, is 10 times faster than traditional autoclave casing.

Under the UK deal, Quickstep will deliver a pilot production plant to Manchester's Institute of Science and Technology in October, says Deryck Graham, director of the company. NATEC and the unnamed OEM will assist Quickstep in its certification efforts, he says.

The Manchester plant will be Quickstep's third pilot plant. One is already operational at the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing (VCAMM) in Australia. VCAMM was established last year to allow industry to maximise the potential offered by the research community in developing advanced metals, fibres and composite materials. A third plant is being built at a major automotive manufacturer in Japan to produce vehicle components and panels made of composites.

The company is also in discussions with nine other organisations about pilot plants, says Graham. It continues to talk to Airbus and Boeing about its technology and remains hopeful that its process could be used on the A380.


Source: Flight International