Eurocopter takes a fresh look at composite manufacturing

 - September 26, 2007, 12:24 PM

Eurocopter is considering introducing fiber placement for helicopter composite fuselage manufacturing as a way to replace manual lay-up and reduce costs by an estimated 20 to 25 percent. A research project has yielded the first EC 155 rear section (tailcone and fenestron vertical tail) made by fiber placement. Engineers are testing the part at the firm’s Marignane, France research and development facilities.
Benoît Gresle, head of material and process research programs at Eurocopter, said one benefit of the process is that it shortens cycles by 30 percent. This is due partly to the reduced number of vacuum bags used during the manufacturing process. “The machine’s head exerts pressure on the mold, so the need for compaction is reduced threefold,” he told AIN.

The process also enables better part integration. “We have halved the part count, from 32 to 16,” Gresle said. Complex curves are possible thanks to individual handling of rovings. In addition, one roving can be cut to help match complex geometric shapes, reducing the number of off-cuts.

The changes also reduced the weight of the rear section by 5 to 10 percent. Because Eurocopter is awaiting test results before making a formal decision about using fiber placement in production, it has mated the newly manufactured rear section to a conventional tailboom for structural tests. Static and fatigue trials of the assembly were scheduled to begin last month.