The aerospace industry is continuously looking at weight reductions while maintaining a high level of stiffness and strength to reduce fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and increase efficiency, payload and/or range. Thermosets still make the primary structure in Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 because of their competitive pricing, mature manufacturing process and well-established supply chain. However, low energy absorption, labour intensity, long production cycle time, and limited recyclability and end of life options questions its advantages and sustainability of thermosets in the long run, especially the demand for newer and cleaner aircraft is increasing.
To meet this increasing demand, there is a need to utilising novel materials and technologies. Advanced thermoplastic composites provide an excellent alternative material option thanks to their weldability, low density, low overall production cost, improved fracture toughness and recyclability. However, to fully appreciate their potentials in terms of weight, cost and production rate, new manufacturing approach and techniques are needed.
Hence, TCTool project aims developing three end-effects solutions to demonstrate the feasibility of assembling a 180° full scale multifunctional integrated thermoplastic lower fuselage shell, including cabin and cargo floor structure. This demonstrator has a length of around 8m and a varying radius between 2m and 2.5m as part of a larger project, STUNNING (SmarT mUlti-fuNctioNal and INtegrated TP fuselage).
The innovative end-effectors developed in TCTool that will assemble the key components are as follows:
- 1. An automated adaptive assembly tool that supports the fuselage skin for the entire assembly process. Attached to this assembly tool is the first end-effector that weld the 8-meter length stringers (placed by the second end-effector) to the fuselage skin. The assembly tool and end-effector are developed and designed by TWI Ltd. The conduction welding technology and the welding head is developed by GKN-Fokker Aerospace.
- 2. The second end-effector is supported by a robotic system hanging downwards from a gantry to pick-and-place the stringers and the injection moulded thermoplastic frame clips. FADA-CATEC leads the development of this end-effector.
- 3. The third end-effector is developed by LSBU to perform various short welds at hard-to-reach locations within the assembly while being attached to a gantry robot arm. This end-effector uses the same conduction welding technology developed by GKN-Fokker Aerospace.
The automated assembly process is combined in a digital twin to provide a complete description of the product. This digital twin is developed by Acroflight Ltd. While Brunel University London will lead the effort to disseminate the scientific achievements of this project. TCTool project partners have recently delivered preliminary designs for the assembly end-effectors. They are currently in the process of finalising these designs for the critical design review (CDR) to start manufacturing the end-effectors and deliver them to GKN-Fokker Aerospace to begin assembling the fuselage demonstrator as part of STUNNING project.
TCTool has received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 865131. Project Partners: GKN-Fokker Aerospace (Topic Manager), TWI Ltd., Fundación Andaluza para el Desarrollo Aeroespacial – Advanced Center for Aerospace Technologies, Brunel University London, London South Bank University.
Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project
Dr Mihalis Kazilas
- R&D programmes Director in the field of polymers characterisation and polymer composites manufacturing and joining processes. Creative thinker who enjoys problem solving and able to work with different stakeholders to achieve the optimum results in both technical and managerial environments.