End-Effector Development and Industrialisation for Welding of Thermoplastic Components
The next generation of large passenger aircraft will make extensive use of thermoplastic composites, which could replace thermoset composites and metals in many areas of aircraft construction. Thermoplastic composites can be lighter in weight even than thermoset composites, but the key advantage is that they can be joined together using welding processes. This has the potential to eliminate many of the hundreds of thousands of fasteners in an aircraft, improving reliability and reducing assembly costs.
Taking the full advantage of thermoplastic composites weldability will require the development of innovative new approaches to tooling and automation to eliminate or reduce fixed tooling costs, which can account for more than one-third of non-recurring costs.
TCTool project will develop innovative new end-effectors for jigless assembly of thermoplastic composite fuselage structures, and new adaptive tooling for the welding of thermoplastic fuselage skin to stringers and frames. This will allow highly automated assembly of these complex structures with tooling that can be re-configured digitally and reused.
The project will also deliver simulation tools and perform manufacturing simulations to quantify variations in assembly, risk of defects, and optimise the process to achieve cost-effective zero-defects assembly.
GKN-Fokker Aerospace is the world’s leading multi-technology tier 1 aerospace supplier.
With 50 manufacturing locations in 15 countries, GKN-Fokker Aerospace serves over 90% of the world’s aircraft and engine manufacturers. GKN-Fokker Aerospace design and manufacture innovative smart aerospace systems and components. GKN-Fokker Aerospace technologies are used in aircraft ranging from the most used single-aisle aircraft and the largest passenger planes in the world to business jets and the world’s advanced 5th generation fighter aircraft.
TWI is a membership organisation (1800 members in 70 countries) and works across all industry sectors with expertise in key aspects of materials, materials joining, structural integrity, static and dynamic testing and Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) and Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) and have representation on over 100 standards committees.
Fundación Andaluza para el Desarrollo Aeroespacial – Advanced Center for Aerospace Technologies (FADA-CATEC)
The Andalusian Foundation for Aerospace Development (FADA) is a non-profit organisation for the management and control of CATEC research centre. The main goal of FADA-CATEC is the research and development in aerospace-related technologies, supporting industries in collaboration with universities and other research centres. FADA-CATEC has currently over 65 researchers between engineers and doctors.
Brunel University London
Brunel University London has been highly successful in creating industrial innovation research resources, including the Brunel Composites Innovation Centre (BCC). BCC sits between the knowledge base and industry, supporting partners in the industry to transfer academic research into industrial application. BCC specialises in novel composites processing and joining technologies, applied to industrial environments.
London South Bank University Innovation Centre
The London South Bank Innovation Centres (LSBIC and PolyMERIC) were both established at Granta Park, Great Abington, Cambridge, UK by London South Bank University (LSBU) as a long strategic partnership. LSBIC was established to research and develop automation for inspection, maintenance and repair. The aim is to take award-winning robot prototypes developed by the university towards commercialisation by locating the centre in an industrial environment. PolyMERIC is mainly focused on advanced/smart polymers and reinforced thermoplastics, joining of thermoplastics and non-destructive testing techniques that can be utilised to be used with these materials. The centre researches into and develops new polymer materials, testing and inspection methodologies in harsh environments, in the TRL1-6 region.
Acroflight has been expanding its engineering services since its forerunner's establishment in 1988. It aims to lead the engineering community towards a technologically-advanced future. For each project, Acroflight work carefully to stay within budget while providing maximum value for its clients and their needs.
Clean Sky is the most ambitious aeronautical research programme ever launched in Europe. A Public Private Partnership between the European Commission and the European aeronautics industry, Clean Sky coordinates research and innovation between industrial leaders, universities, research centres and SMEs.
TCTool Workshop, 5-6 February 2020.
TCTool project partners recently attended a workshop at Fokker-GKN Aerospace and SAM-XL in the Netherlands on 5-6 February 2020. The meetings, which took place in Hoogeveen and in Delft, allowed for representatives of the TCTool Consortium to provide progress updates on activities within the EU-funded aerospace project.
UltraMAT Open Day Workshop, 30 January 2020.
Sofia Sampethai, TWI’s Adhesives, Composites and Sealants Senior Project Leader delivered a talk at the UltraMAT Open Day Workshop in Cambridge.
The workshop, which took place on 30 January 2020, was attended by companies including metal composites developers and manufacturers TISICS, engineering services providers KWSP, laser welding solutions providers CARRS Welding Technologies, BAE Systems, Marshall Aerospace, and many more.
Sofia’s talk, ‘CleanSky Projects at TWI: Towards Quieter and More Environmentally Friendly Aircrafts,’ detailed the principles of the CleanSky undertaking and included details of TCTool project.
Sofia’s talk was well received by the attendees who were keen to hear the latest developments in these ongoing projects.
European Robotics Forum, 3-5 March 2020.
Eduardo Ferrera, Head of Automation & Robotics Unit at Advanced Center for Aerospace Technologies (CATEC) attended the European Robotics Forum 2020 in Malaga, Spain. At CATEC's stand, Eduardo disseminated TCTool project to many experts and visitors attending the event.
TCTool Updates Delivered during Composites UK Webinar, 12 October 2020.
Sofia Sampethai, TWI’s Adhesives, Composites and Sealants Senior Project Leader, delivered a talk on 12 October 2020 for Composites UK during a webinar regarding The Future of Aircraft Interiors.
Sofia’s talk, ‘CleanSky Projects at TWI: Towards Quieter and More Environmentally Friendly Aircrafts,’ detailed the principles of the CleanSky undertaking and included details of three CleanSky projects that TWI is currently involved in. Including TCTool Project.
The recording of the talk can be accessed from here: https://youtu.be/XaRFmaJoLBE
Successful delivery of TCTool’s Critical Design Review (CDR), 20 October 2020.
TCTool consortium has delivered a successfully Critical Design Review (CDR) to the Topic Manager Fokker-GKN Aerospace. In the CDR, each partner presented a detailed design of their end-effector and assembly system. First to present was Danila from LSBU, illustrating the innovative short-welds end-effector that is capable of manoeuvring its way to reach difficult spots. This was followed by TWI’s Adaptable jig design and long welds concept that will support the entire assembly, presented by Luka Hans. As for stringers and clips placement and welding, CATEC represented by Elena detailed the design of their multipurpose end-effector that will be supported by SAM XL gantry similar to LSBU end-effector. Finally, John from ACRO, outlined the functions and progress of the digital twin that will oversee and provide a complete description of the product.
TCTool’s multifunctional jig-less assembly end-effector ready for commissioning, 20 March 2021.
With Clean Sky 2 joint undertaking under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, the EU targets a 75% reduction in CO2 and a 90% reduction in NOx for commercial flights by 2050. TCTool consortium is expected to contribute to such an ambitious goal by developing industrially scalable automation for the assembly of STUNNING’s programme multifunctional integrated thermoplastic lower fuselage. The use of advanced thermoplastic composites in this full-scale demonstrator provides an excellent material option thanks to their weldability, low density, low overall production cost, improved fracture toughness and recyclability.
Today, TCTool project partner, CATEC, achieved a significant milestone: The multifunctional jig-less assembly end-effector is now ready for its final test before being commissioned. This end-effector combines elements such as suction cups, actuators, sensors, ultrasonic welding and more in an innovative single compact package (see the figure below) that allows for stringer picking and ultrasonic tack-welding over the fuselage skin.
The design and components of jig-less assembly end-effector.
TCTool project partners publish the article titled “Development of innovative automated solutions for the assembly of multifunctional thermoplastic composite fuselage”, 11 August 2021.
The consortium members of TCTool project have recently published the article titled “Development of innovative automated solutions for the assembly of multifunctional thermoplastic composite fuselage” at the International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology. This research article presents the innovative solutions developed as part of TCTool to assemble the lower half of the multifunctional thermoplastic composite fuselage demonstrator for STUNNING programme.
The paper can be accessed from here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00170-021-07829-2