Composites take off in Manchester

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A new £2.1 million centre for aerospace composite design and manufacture is to be opened at The University of Manchester.

The Northwest Composites Centre (NWCC) will carry out research into new low cost, low energy routes for making polymer composite materials, which will be used to construct lighter, more fuel efficient aircraft.

According to Manchester University, composites are now established as the lightweight material of choice for many high-technology structural applications. Airbus and Boeing have composite designs that are set to replace predominantly metallic aircraft. Composites are heavily used on the new Airbus A400M and the Boeing 7E7 Dreamliner.

Researchers at the Centre will look at new ways of rapidly and economically manufacturing composite materials which are as strong as steel and half the weight of aluminium.

The Centre’s research will concentrate on perfecting the process of composite manufacture - the fusing of complementary materials like plastics and carbon fibre to produce hybrid materials to a desired weight, strength and flexibility.

The NWCC, which is a joint venture between the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Lancaster and Bolton, will be one of only four Centres in the world using a new technology called ‘Quickstep’, which enables large composite parts to be rapidly manufactured to aerospace standards. The centre will also pioneer other new methods which will allow them to fuse composite materials together more quickly.

Research at the NWCC will focus largely on polymer-composites which offer many advantages over conventional materials including lightness and resilience to corrosion. The NWCC will also have access to a wide range of techniques for producing technical textile structures, rapidly manufacturing composites and evaluating their structure and performance.

Funding has been awarded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency following a successful application to the Northwest Science Fund (NWSF).

“Current methods for producing composites are relatively inefficient which makes using these materials to construct aircraft an expensive option,” said Dr Richard Day, Director of the NWCC. “If we can speed up the production process, and create these materials more cost effectively, and through lower energy usage create a lower impact on the environment, then we have the potential to economically produce planes which are lighter, stronger and more fuel efficient.”