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Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program

Composite Manufacturing Technologies for Aerospace Performance at Automotive Production Rates

Active Technology Project

Project Introduction

Urban Air Mobility (UAM), a safe and efficient air transportation system for on-demand mobility (ODM) from small package delivery to air taxis, has arrived as the next frontier in air transportation. Market studies have established economic factors with NASA setting forth a Grand Challenge in the 2022 timeframe. With higher production volumes and smaller size than commercial aircraft, studies have identified need for next generation composite materials and manufacturing methods to meet ODM goals of affordability, safety and lifecycle emissions. A new paradigm shift is proposed to innovate highly aligned short fiber composites that can be stamped like sheet metal at high rate while retaining aerospace properties and tailorability in lightweight composite structures.

The University of Delaware (UD-CCM) has developed a highly-aligned short fiber-based composite feedstock (>57% volume fraction) that enables automotive-like production processes at high rate (i.e. 1 minute cycle times) with properties equivalent to aerospace-grade continuous fiber composites. Single step metal-like forming of tailored blanks into complex geometries has been demonstrated. An automated pilot facility to convert fibers to parts at rate will be leveraged to create new prepreg and tailored blanks formats for model validation, database generation and forming demonstrations.

The Technical Challenge is to develop a science-based part/process design methodology for TuFF composites meeting aerospace performance at automotive manufacturing rates, as well as demonstrate at rate manufacturing capability of TuFF complex geometry parts. A combined experimental and modeling approach is leading to TuFF composite part design and manufacturing guidelines for industry transition. Modeling aspects will focus on visualizing and understanding fiber-scale mechanisms of alignment during processing, mechanical loading and rate dependent forming of highly aligned short fiber layers, development of experimentally validated constitutive models, process and part design.

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