High-speed, automated aviation RTM production line provides next-generation spoiler | Composites World

At Spirit Spirit Systems’ factory in Prestwick, Scotland, a glimpse into the future of aerospace composite manufacturing in the resin transfer molding line for the A320 spoiler. #ndi #cuttingtools#In-house manufacturing
Spirit AeroSystems’ resin transfer molded Airbus A320 spoiler, finished, assembled and painted. Source | Continuous Wave
Every commercial aircraft has a set of spoilers for each wing. These are usually hinged panels or flaps on the rear surface of the wing to reduce the lift of the aircraft. They are used for roll control during flight to increase the rate of descent without increasing airspeed, and during landing to reduce lift and increase drag to slow the aircraft. The spoiler is mechanically actuated and will be subject to great mechanical stress from the air flow when it is deployed. In short, they are a key component of aircraft flight functions.
On the Airbus A320 series aircraft-including A318, A319, A320 and A321-there are a total of 10 spoilers, 5 on each wing. Each A320 spoiler has a different size, depending on its position on the wing, but it is usually 1.8 meters long and 0.7 meters wide. The front end of each spoiler is about 50 mm thick, and the rear edge is gradually reduced to about 5 mm. Each spoiler also has a 200 x 100 mm metal bracket in the middle of its front edge to which the mechanical actuator is attached-for the A320, it is a rod end effector. There are also smaller metal fixing points at the corners of each leading edge.
When the Airbus A320 was developed in the early 1980s, composite materials were not new materials for commercial aircraft, but their use was mainly limited to secondary structures. The first A320 was put into use in 1987 and has 10 composite spoilers. These manual spoilers are laminated with carbon fiber prepreg and manually wrapped with a honeycomb core. These spoilers are produced in Subang by Spirit Malaysia, a subsidiary of Spirit AeroSystems, and have been serving the entire A320 series for decades.
But about three years ago, Airbus began to consider increasing A320 production to 60 aircraft per month. The company has also been considering the development of a new single-aisle aircraft to replace the A320. The monthly output of the aircraft may be as high as 100.
Airbus spoiler project leader Ian Latto (Ian Latto) is located in Bristol, UK. He said that since the aircraft debuted in 1987, the A320 spoiler is one of the few that does not require redesign One of the wing components. However, as Airbus is considering increasing the construction rate of the A320 series aircraft, it is necessary to redesign the spoiler to achieve the cost and rate capabilities of the new technology. In addition, as Airbus looks forward to the future, it knows that the manufacturing of the spoiler must be shifted from manual manufacturing to a “highly automated, low-variability, and high-quality manufacturing process,” Latto said.
Peter Smith, head of wing engineering for the Airbus A320 family, and his team faced the problem of redesigning the spoiler to reduce costs and costs. In addition, he said, these new high-speed, low-cost spoilers must be completely interchangeable, not only suitable for existing spoilers, but also reduce weight, and can replace aerodynamics. Smith said: “Before researching RTM, we researched many technologies and traded the benefits.” The new Airbus spoiler structure is a coreless, integral skin and spar design, which is very different from the traditional design it will replace. very different.
An aerial view of the Spirit AeroSystems Prestwick campus, adjacent to Glasgow Prestwick Airport. Source | Spirit Aviation System
After Airbus decided to update the spoiler, conduct trade research and subsequent material and process (M&P) development, it needs partners to develop manufacturing processes to manufacture them. For this Airbus, in mid-2017, it turned to one of its long-term suppliers, Spirit AeroSystems (Wita, Kansas, USA). More specifically, it turned to Spirit AeroSystems (Europe), the company’s R&D and manufacturing campus in Prestwick, England, located on the west coast about 75 miles southwest of Edinburgh, Scotland. Prestwick University has a vast campus, adjacent to Glasgow Prestwick International Airport. It was established in 1935 and was formerly known as Scottish Airlines Ltd. Later it became the BAE Systems Aircraft Structure Company. Spirit subsequently acquired these facilities in 2006.
Spirit’s Prestwick plant is home to aerospace manufacturing of composite materials and metal components for various Airbus plans. Many of Prestwick’s traditional jobs are made to drawings, but since Spirit was acquired, the facility has positioned itself as a design and manufacturing aerospace supplier. As part of this transition, composite material research and development has become a core function. The company has established a Spirit of Excellence Center in Prestwick and is completing the construction of its 85,000-square-foot Aerospace Innovation Center (AIC) in Prestwick, which focuses on aerospace structures, composite manufacturing and assembly technologies. Therefore, the A320 spoiler project is very suitable.
Spirit leads the overall research and development work. Dr. Sean Black, the deputy chief engineer of the research and technology department born in Scotland, is currently working at Spirit’s Wichita headquarters. Geoffrey Pinner, head of the Wing Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Center, leads Prestwick’s engineering work. British Pinner is the former head of Airbus, leading the A350 design team. Black was an engineer on the Pinner A350 team and persuaded Pinner to retire in 2019 and work with him in Spirit.
Once selected by Spirit as a manufacturing partner, Black said: “Spirit has begun the journey of optimizing the RTM spoiler design process.” This includes another trade study and the final design optimization. The design and manufacturing factors to be considered for spoilers are considerable: large mechanical load, cantilever structure, embedded replacement, size compliance, cost-effectiveness, high productivity, and sustainability. Spirit spent six months conducting its own trade research, evaluating options for metals and composites, including various composite manufacturing processes inside and outside the autoclave. Pinner pointed out: “The project has a high reputation and focus within the Airbus system.” “We have adopted a focused, end-to-end, design-to-cost approach.”
Spirit’s assessment includes composite materials and metal options, consistent with benchmarks established by Airbus. The RTM of epoxy in carbon fiber can meet all spoiler requirements, including-critically-cost. Pinner said that this is not production costs, but Spirit can reduce system costs by 30%. He said: “From raw materials to assembly to wings, RTM solutions are the most cost-effective.” The winning solution is also independent of weight.
step 1. Spirit’s A320 spoiler production line starts with fabric cutting and kite finishing. The six Schmidt & Heinzmann cutting tables are arranged in two rows, cutting every three rows. Between the two rows is an ABB multi-axis robot for classifying the spoiler skin and spar. Source | Continuous Wave
Spirit worked quickly to turn the design of the Airbus spoiler into a manufacturing demonstrator, which will eventually prove the concept successfully. The demonstrators who followed not only developed a high-rate and high-efficiency RTM process, but also developed a composite material manufacturing concept, which in particular is a symbol of Spirit’s solution-centric approach, and the overall commercial aerospace The way forward.
Prestwick’s R&D manager Taylor Boyd led the team. In the past three years, they have been committed to Spirit’s efforts to bring the RTM manufacturing concept into reality. Purchasing, developing and assembling all the hardware, software, and operator’s work becomes his team’s work. They will work together to convert the front-end raw materials into the back-end fully assembled, tested and painted spoiler. Boyd said that this is a difficult task, but it is rewarding, and it deviates from the Prestwick factory’s specifications, especially automation integration.
CW visited the A320 spoiler production line in late February 2020, when Spirit made the finishing touches on the materials and equipment before officially launching the production line itself. Nevertheless, the complexity and efficiency of the software Boyd developed is obvious.
Step 2. With the help of ThyssenKrupp, Spirit’s warehouse system uses metal pallets to automatically sort and store the plies with kits before and after preforming. Source | Continuous Wave
The manufacture of the A320 spoiler starts in a 1000 square meter 9-level clean room, which will be equipped with six operators in the class, responsible for four processes: cutting, installation, pre-forming and pre-forming assembly. The operator is mainly responsible for moving materials from one station to another and assembling the preforms into the mold.
The first station of the production line is fabric cutting and kitting. The process is carried out in a closed, fully automated work cell that includes six Schmidt & Heinzmann (Brussal, Germany) cutting tables. Each table is about 2 meters long and 1 meter wide. They are divided into two rows, every three rows, there is a 7-axis between the rows, the ABB group robot (Zurich, Switzerland) mounted on the guide rail, through the suction cup array to cut the sorting, picking and placement to cut the spoiler Skinned and sparse. Four of the tables are dedicated to cutting carbon fiber non-crimp fabric (NCF) provided by Teijin Carbon Europe GmbH (Wuppertal, Germany). The fifth table is dedicated to cutting Hexcel (Stamford, Connecticut, USA) fiberglass plain weave. The sixth table is dedicated to cutting the preform into its final shape. Scrap falls at the end of each table and falls on one of the two narrow conveyor belts on the floor, which runs along both sides of the robot’s track. These conveyors move the waste to the trash bin at the opening of the fence, where the operator can recycle it for recycling.
After returning to the workbench, when cutting the laminate, the ABB robot places it on the stacking table at the end of the workbench. Here, the camera performs a quick inspection of each layer. The layers are then sorted and installed according to their end use (skin, sparse, ribbing), and then spot welded together to activate the adhesive in the NCF. Next, the complete tool kit will be moved by the ABB robot to a stacking board, which is basically a steel pallet. There is a QR code on the pallet to specify the type of kit it contains, whether it is epithelial, inferior, spar or rib. The robot scans the QR code, and the robot records the kit in the Manufacturing Execution System (MES), which is the software that drives the entire spoiler production line
Step 3. After cutting, deliver the A320 spoiler skin kit to one of the two Pinette Emidecau preforms. The preforming cycle is 43 minutes, and the tact time of the entire production line can be set. Source | Continuous Wave
MES is a product of ThyssenKrupp (Essen, Germany). The system integrator provides some manufacturing hardware and material handling equipment used by Spirit. Boyd said the software is an off-the-shelf product of ThyssenKrupp, but it is customized for the spoiler production line and can provide Industry 4.0 features. Writing MES is not only to track the material status and manufacturing progress of the entire factory, but also to guide and prompt the operator’s activities in each step-when to move materials point-to-point, when to load machines, when to unload machines, etc. “Unless MES says to move, we don’t want operators to move here. In addition, he said, MES provides complete data traceability, which allows Spirit to capture and view complete M&P information, from raw materials entering the door to The finished spoiler outside the door.
After scanning and recording the kit, the ABB robot loads the pallets into the “warehouse”, which consists of a series of mechanized metal shelves located in the middle of the clean room, near the cutting table. The warehouse is the intermediate material storage facility for each spoiler component during the production process. When the next step of the production process (preforming) is ready for the new material, MES will request a tray of finished fabric. The warehouse found the requested pallet and delivered it to one of several operator retrieval stations around the warehouse. At the same time, the MES informs the operator that a set of materials has been prepared for transfer to the preform.
Step 4. Prepare the fabric kit (called “main board” by Spirit) for the spoiler for pre-forming. Source | Continuous Wave
There are two pre-forming stations on the Spirit spoiler production line; one is used for pre-forming skin, and the other is used for pre-forming spar components. The skin kit was sent to one of two large Pinette Emidecau Industries (Chalon Sur Saone, France, France) preformers, each approximately 4 meters long and 2 meters wide. Each contains two molds. The largest skin prefabricated here is 1.7 meters x 0.7 meters. Boyd said that at full production speed, the preforming process is expected to take 43 minutes, which is the longest cycle time in the spoiler production line. Then, these 43 minutes represent the tact time of the entire production line at full speed. After preforming, the MES returns the skin to the warehouse.
On the other hand, the spar and rib kit points to the second preforming station, which consists of a (smaller) Pinette Emidecau Industries performer. In all spoiler configurations, there are 10 different spar designs. A single kit from Spirit can be used for the spar, called the “main board”. Nine of the 10 main boards are pre-formed on one of several C-forming tools arranged in the production workshop that have higher performance than the small Pinette. The MES will require the use of a specific tool, which the operator pushes through the rollers and presses onto the platen. The main board is placed on each tool by the operator, who then drives the press.
Each kit also contains an untrimmed main board that cannot be trimmed on the sixth cutting table. The untrimmed main board is taken to the “click” press, where it is stamped into its final shape. This additional stamping process is also used for a unique spar on Spoiler 1. Then, the stamped mother board and other trimmed mother boards are mounted on the pre-forming tool to prepare for the pre-forming process. There are 10 types of preform tools, each with a spoiler configuration. Again, all pre-formed components are then sent back to the warehouse by the MES. Then enter the final step of RTM: preform assembly and mold loading.
Boyd said that the assembly of preforms and the loading of molds are the most labor-intensive step in the spoiler production line, and the assembly line requires almost no labor. Here, the operator collects the upper skin, lower skin and spar preforms sent from the warehouse by the MES, and then transports them to one of the two assembly stations. Each workstation consists of a metal table on which fixtures and fixtures are placed. The operator places a series of black aluminum mandrels on this table and in the fixture. After assembling them, the spar preform is fixed and positioned inside the spoiler. After assembling the mandrels, transfer them to the mandrel box, which is a red metal frame that keeps the mandrel in its assembled state, but puts it on the edge. This allows the operator to quickly and easily install the preform and adjust its position on each spindle.
Step 7. Next, assemble the prefabricated spar kit around the mandrel, then put the mandrel into the mold, and then put it into the box (red box on the left). Source | Spirit Aviation System
At the same time, on another table nearby, the laser projector guided another operator who was aiming at the skin preform under the spoiler under the guidance of the laser projector. He is working under a small group of suction cups mounted on a crane that will eventually pick up the skin preforms and transfer them to the lower part of the spoiler mold located in the metal frame next to the table. With the lower spoiler shell in place, lower the entire mandrel assembly (with the spar) into the black aluminum mold, and then lower the upper shell (like the lower shell). The lower half of the spoiler mold and all the preforms are in place, and then transferred along the rollers through the conveyor gate to the next station, where the upper half of the mold is loaded to the lower half and locked in place. On Spirit, every 10 A320 spoilers have 3 molds and 3 rotating mandrels, which account for a large part of the investment in the production line.
Step 8. Before loading the lower skin, sparse and epithelial preforms, the operator stands on the workbench in front of the lower half of the A320 spoiler RTM mold. Each spoiler has three aluminum molds. Source | Continuous Wave
The fully assembled mold is now ready for the RTM process. Through the MES, the mold is moved out of the clean room along the metal conveyor belt and moved to the RTM press through the red retractable door. The conveyor system is designed so that MES can decide which mold to send to which press, and then automatically route it there. Spirit installed seven RTM presses in a large enclosed fence. These presses were supplied by Coexpair (Namur, Belgium). Next to each press is a resin pump system also provided by Coexpair. The mold moves along the conveyor belt and directly enters the open press.
At the same time, returning to the clean room, the operator degass the epoxy resin system that will be injected into the mold. Airbus’s RTM6 for Spoiler Hexcel, a one-component epoxy resin, has become the standard for RTM in aerospace manufacturing. After the resin is degassed, it is transported to the press, the mold is closed and the injection is started. Boyd said that it takes five hours for a single spoiler to be injected and cured. The curing temperature is 180°C.
Step 9. After fixing the upper half of the spoiler mold to the lower half, transfer the entire tool to one of the seven Coexpair RTM presses that Spirit has installed. The injected resin is Hexcel’s RTM6 one-component epoxy resin. Source | Continuous Wave
When the mold leaves the RTM press, it is the same as the conveyor that transports the mold, but is now transported by the MES to the next shell, where the mold cover is separated, and the spoiler continues to cool to room temperature. The next stop is the demolding area, where the now cooled spoiler is removed from the mold and the mandrel is separated. Prepare to clean the mold. Load the spindles onto one of several turntables that store each spindle vertically. Boyd says these designs are designed to allow operators to easily access each spindle in a configuration that maximizes storage efficiency.
The next stop of the spoiler is one of two CNC machines provided by CMS (Zogno, Italy), where the outer contour of the spoiler is trimmed and drilled for assembly. Boyd pointed out that the trimming operations and holding holes here differ depending on the spoiler type, and like everything else in the production line, the machine operation is also guided by MES.
MES ejects the spoiler from the CNC machine for non-destructive testing. This is performed by two Stäubli (Pfäffikon, Switzerland) robots in a fenced enclosure using ultrasonic phased array technology in a system provided by Ultrasound Science Co., Ltd. (Aldershot, UK) of). Check the skin with a robot. Another robot inspects the spar. After the spoiler passes the inspection, the final assembly will be carried out, followed by weights and measures and painting.
Step 10. After forming, demold the finished spoiler. Before returning to the production line, the tools and mandrels are vertically loaded on the turntable, and then cleaned and adjusted. Source | Spirit Aviation System
For the final assembly, the spoiler was installed vertically on the red fixing device, which travels on the ground-mounted track through a series of stations for installing and connecting metal parts. These include center fittings attached to the wing spoiler diverter actuators, outboard fittings, edge seals and main cavity stops. This also includes a 95°C oven cycle for curing adhesives and seals.
After the spoiler leaves the oven and cools down, it is measured. After passing the measurement, the outer surface is ready for painting (light abrasion) and cleanliness test. Then, it arrives at a large booth, the paint marshalling area. The booth can accommodate up to four spoiler boat groups (40 spoilers). Boyd said that it was here that the spoiler was added to the other spoilers in 10 fleets for the first time. Each fleet was painted as a group, and then routed outside the production line by MES to prepare for transportation and delivery. . The spoiler is complete.
The first batch of ships expected to leave this production line is expected to be put into production in the first quarter of 2020, and then installed on the A320 in the second quarter of 2020. Airbus and Spirit initially estimated that by mid-2021, the line will be produced at a full-speed production rate of 63 ships per month. However, the coronavirus pandemic forced Airbus to reduce A320 production to 40 per month in April, and it may reduce further. In any case, the spoiler production line designed by Spirit can accommodate 65 fleets per month and can be flexibly increased as needed.
Step 11. Load the molded spoiler into one of the two CMS CNC machines for trimming and drilling. Source | Continuous Wave
Spirit AeroSystems’ A320 spoiler production system in Prestwick was officially launched on February 28th at a full-time ceremony represented by His Excellency Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. She described the spoiler as a symbol of Scotland’s efforts to become an important part of aerospace manufacturing. She said: “This is our hope that the Scottish manufacturing industry will become a shining example of everything.” “Spirit is able to industrialize the new technology of manufacturing composite spoilers.”
In fact, at full speed, this production line will produce major aerospace structures with unprecedented speed and quality and consistency, which is unprecedented in aerospace composite manufacturing. At a rate of 65 fleets per month (including Airbus’ new A321XLR), the Spirit series will produce nearly 6,500 spoilers per year. Calculated at a theoretical rate of 100 fleets per month, this number jumped to 10,000.
Moreover, this is a product and production line that is destined to continue to exist outside the A320 and the spoiler structure itself. Airbus’ Latto said at the award ceremony on February 28 that Airbus and Spirit’s work to reimagine and industrialize the A320 spoiler gave the product new life: “We have verified the spoiler. The future of the board in order to provide us with flexible programs in other future uses.” Smith of Airbus pointed out that the industrialization and automation of the RTM spoiler is the first step in many key steps. “The spoiler provides a relatively simple structure to demonstrate the concepts and advantages of more complex and demanding structures, such as the rethinking of wingtip devices, wing skins, and high-curvature fairings. In aerospace In the high-cost, low-cost environment of the field, the more integration and modular assembly we can do, the better.”
Step 12. After machining and before final assembly of metal fasteners, each spoiler is inspected using multi-axis robots and phased array technology. Source | Continuous Wave
From the perspective of Spirit AeroSystems, the spoiler production line not only demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of the new technology, but also demonstrates how composite materials are mature and utilized for the next generation of aircraft. In particular, the Prestwick campus is using autoclaving (OOA) M&P as an important competitive advantage in the aviation composites supply chain. Sean Black of Spirit said: “This plan is clearly an important milestone in our autoclave journey.” “But it was made possible by several things that are vital to the company’s progress: automation, Software, academic support and government support.”
Black and Pinner also pointed out that Spirit’s partnership with Airbus and a unified approach have promoted the development of next-generation spoilers. The cooperation with Airbus has also greatly simplified the work. Pinner said: “We got all the business benefits of the project without having to do convincing work.”
The right Mr. Right Fish and those who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony rarely thought that the coronavirus pandemic would bring turmoil and chaos to the global economy. Indeed, on February 28, the commercial aviation industry was a few weeks away from the almost complete collapse of passenger travel, and with it was the consequent plummet in demand for new aircraft-not to mention the fact that it was already in service Of the plane.
Regardless of the short-term prospects, how difficult this may be for the aerospace industry, the nearly 8 billion people who call the planet home will not stand still forever, which means that commercial air travel will return to the market. This means that the power and power to control the aerospace supply chain will return in some form. As of mid-May, it is estimated that air passenger traffic will recover for 3 to 5 years, and the demand for single-aisle aircraft is ahead of the design of dual-aisle aircraft.
Therefore, the dynamics and forces that control composite materials in commercial aircraft still exist. This means that Airbus, Boeing, or both may announce new single-aisle aircraft in the next few years, thus opening the door to the application of composite materials and composite materials in innovative ways. To be sure, similar to the materials developed by Spirit Spirit Systems for the A320 spoiler, craftsmanship and software technology will not only become common but also essential.
“Everything we do here is the driving force to achieve a high-speed environment,” Black believes. “We think this is the future of the Holy Spirit.”
Shown here is a plan view of the Airbus A320 spoiler production line at Spirits AeroSystems (Europe) in Prestwick, Scotland. This highly automated production line includes cutting, kitting, preforming, RTM, CNC finishing, assembly, non-destructive testing and spraying.
When receiving this award, Spirit AeroSystems is a recognized aerospace supplier and won the contract for the 41st division of the Boeing 787. Now, its eyes are on the next generation of aircraft.
Manufacturers of nacelles and thrust reversers focus on optimizing traditional manual laying, focusing on the future use of automation and closed forming.

Post time: Sep-14-2020
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