Three Innovation Centres Collaborate on TCTOOL Project
Brunel Composites Centre (BCC), London South Bank Innovation Centre (LSBIC) and the Polymeric Materials Engineering, Research and Innovation Centre (PolyMERIC) have recently commenced work on the TCTOOL project alongside fellow consortium partners GKN Aerospace, FADA-CATEC, Acroflight and TWI. The project, which successfully attracted funding from Clean Sky, the most ambitious aeronautical research programme ever launched in Europe, is being co-ordinated by TWI’s Adhesives, Components and Sealants section with GKN-Fokker Aerospace as the Topic Manager.
The TCTOOL project will focus on: Innovative tooling to develop new end-effectors for the jig-less assembly of thermoplastic, composite fuselage structures; and new adaptive tooling for the welding of thermoplastic fuselage skin to stringers and frames. This will enable the assembly of these complex structures to be highly automated, with tooling that can be digitally re-configured and reused. The project will also deliver simulation tools and perform manufacturing simulations to quantify variations in assembly and risk of defects, and optimise the process of achieving cost-effective, zero-defects assembly.
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. The key advantage of thermoplastic composites is that they can be joined together using welding processes, and this has the potential to eliminate many of the hundreds of thousands of fasteners in an aircraft, thereby improving reliability and reducing assembly costs. However, it will require the development of innovative new approaches to tooling and automation in order to take full advantage of thermoplastic composites weldability, leading to the elimination of, or reduction in, fixed tooling costs which can account for more than one-third of non-recurring costs.
The planned process flow for TCTOOL project activities includes:
- End-effector development for picking, positioning and tac welding of stringers to lower fuselage skin
- Welding the thermoplastic stringer and fuselage skin using a long-weld end-effector
- Picking, placing and welding beams within the fuselage skin using the developed end effectors
- Picking, placing and welding clips to the fuselage skin and stringers in place
- Developing a digital-twin which combines the automated assembly process and simulations to provide a complete description of the product.
Visit the TCTOOL website to find out more about the project.