Advanced composites technologies firm Hexcel is launching a British government-backed $10 million Multi Axial Infused Materials (MAXIM) research and development project and expanding its manufacturing facility in Leicester, U.K.
The four-year MAXIM project, backed by the UK Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and match-funded by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, will be responsible for developing progressive, cost-effective materials and manufacturing solutions for large aerospace and automotive composite structures.
Business Minister Richard Harrington said: “MAXIM is a welcome investment in the Midlands economy and the UK aerospace and automotive sectors, supporting the type of high-skilled jobs we are committed to delivering through our Industrial Strategy.
“This [project] will enable composite structures such as aircraft wings and car bodies to be manufactured faster, greener and more cost-effectively.”
Most large aerospace composite parts are made from “prepreg” where the carbon fibers and resins have already been combined. Converting this material into solid parts requires huge pressurized ovens, known as autoclaves. The MAXIM project will explore the manufacture of new carbon fiber fabric forms and resins that can be made into parts without using autoclaves. The aim is to enable complex metal structures, such as aircraft wings, to be manufactured more cost effectively and at faster production rates from composites.
Composite structures are around 25% to 30% lighter than metal equivalents, delivering positive environmental benefits. Lighter aircraft will use less fuel and produce fewer CO2 emissions.
Hexcel is investing in expanding its Leicester plant by installing a state-of-the art machine for carbon non-crimp fabrics development and lab equipment for research into this technology. The company will be working closely with the National Composites Centre to leverage its expertise in material handling and part processing.
Hexcel’s Thierry Merlot, president of aerospace for Europe/MEA/Asia Pacific, said: “Investment in this project in Leicester will allow Hexcel to advance key out-of-autoclave technologies that can provide a step change in the cost-effective production of composite parts for commercial aircraft and passenger cars. The project will support the development of new materials that the aerospace industry in particular can adopt with confidence to meet the high build rate requirements for future programs.”