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U.S. Air Force Funds Spirit AeroSystems Composites Research

Composites materials have long been favorites of aerospace designers for building large structures such as fuselages and wings due to the carbon fiber fabric’s strength, light weight and adaptability to necessary shapes and sizes.

Spirit AeroSystems enjoys an unusually wide range of experience with composites since it works with several variations of the materials for both commercial and defense aviation OEMs.  As such, Spirit was a natural collaborator to help tackle the challenges of industrializing new methods of heating materials during the production process. 

When it comes to automated composite fabrication, laser heating promises faster material placement and enhanced process control over infrared heaters traditionally used in the process. It also enables the use of materials that require higher processing temperatures, such as thermoplastics and dry fibers.

Spirit recently signed a contract with Creare LLC for the development and integration of an advanced laser heater into Spirit’s new robotic automated fiber placement (AFP) machine. Creare selected Spirit and Electroimpact to industrialize the laser heater, originally developed under AFRL Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding, as part of an Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) commercialization readiness program.

The project will conclude in 2020 with Spirit fabricating a large composite panel utilizing the laser heating system.

“Laser heating is on Spirit’s AFP roadmap as it enables higher-rate production, lower costs and improved overall quality,” said Spirit AeroSystems Senior Director for Research and Technology Eric Hein. “Creare has demonstrated great success on their integrated, laser-assisted consolidated system (ILACS™) to date; so we are excited about integrating the new laser heater into our composite fabrication processes.”

Dr. Jay Rozzi, Creare’s principal engineer who led the development, said the company is focused on engaging with partners to transition the SBIR-developed technology to benefit current and future Department of Defense programs. “Spirit is the industry leader in automated fiber placement utilization and specializes in industrializing new technologies for production,” Rozzi said. “We are thrilled to partner with Spirit and Electroimpact to industrialize ILACS™ for use on future Air Force programs.”

This material is based upon work supported by the United States Air Force under Contract No. FA8650-19-C-5081. Any opinions, finding and conditions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the United States Air Force.


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