Weaving wings

Engineers at the University of Ulster are taking part in a project to determine how 3D woven textiles can be used to make components for aircraft structures and aeroplane engines.

Engineers at the University of Ulster are taking part in a project to determine how 3D woven textiles can be used to make components for the next generation of aircraft structures and aeroplane engines.

Carbon fibre is currently widely used in the aerospace industry, traditionally in a laminated form, where multiple layers of the material that have been previously impregnated with resin, are laid one on top of the other to achieve the required component properties. The multilayer component is then heated under pressure, producing a cured composite part.

This project involves weaving carbon fibre into 3D shapes as required by the aerospace industry. Essentially the project involves the weaving of the carbon fibre to the required thickness and shape in one operation and then injecting it with resin to produce the composite part.

The project team, who are sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry, will also be devising computer systems on which the woven materials can be created and tested in a virtual environment, reducing manufacturing times and costs.

Dr Justin Quinn, Director of the UU’s Engineering Composites Research Centre (ECRE), said: “We are taking textile weaving techniques and applying them to aerospace engineering technology to develop the potential to weave components for the next generation of aircraft and aircraft engines.

“We are one of a very small number of people in the UK who can weave these complex woven architectures on traditional weaving machinery. By transferring this technology into the aerospace industry we will create a productive relationship between the textile and aerospace industries. In the longer term this could go some way to reviving the textile industry which has suffered a severe downturn in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK”.

Among the types of components which could be created from the 3D woven carbon are wing ribs, stringers (the main structural parts of wings), structural stiffners for multi-body components and engine components.

Dr Quinn added: “Composites made using materials such as woven carbon fibre have the potential to be lighter and stronger than traditional metals, meaning that aircraft can be manufactured more quickly, carry bigger payloads, use less fuel because they are lighter, fly faster and fly greater distances.”

The other partners in the project include the Universities of Nottingham and Bristol, BAe Systems, Rolls Royce, Dowty Propellors, Advanced Composites Group (ACG), Deep Sea Engineering and Sigmatex, a high-tech fibres company.