Quatro Composites, a designer and manufacturer of carbon-fiber molded products, has been awarded three contracts to supply carbon-fiber panels to airframers and Tier 1 suppliers for drill qualification and assembly training.
These contracts underscore the significance that outsourcing plays in the industry. “Most aircraft manufacturers have been producing these in-house at their facilities, and it became a priority to outsource the panels so they can focus on assembly,” said Ken Gamble, Vice President of Composite Technology at Quatro Composites.
The carbon-fiber panels that the company produces are not for production use on aircraft. “At this time, they are for qualification/training purposes for on-the-floor technicians,” Gamble noted. He declined to mention which companies Quatro is supplying these panels to, as well as volume figures.
“As the airplane manufacturers make the radical shift from aluminum to carbon composite materials for the primary structure, much support is required to address the new techniques of drilling, fastening, and bonding,” Steve Roesner, Quatro’s Chief Operating Officer, said in a statement.
The company supports the manufacturers of composite fuselage and wing skins by supplying carbon/epoxy panels that are built to the aircraft manufacturer’s process specifications.
“Carbon fiber is very abrasive and requires carbide or diamond tooling, [and] the dust is conductive so it either needs a very good vacuum or flood coolant,” said Gamble, noting a couple of the challenges presented by drilling and assembling carbon-fiber panels.
Despite any challenges, Gamble predicts that carbon-fiber-panel usage on future aircraft “will only increase as fuel prices increase. Carbon parts, if designed well, provide a 30% weight savings over aluminum parts.”
To meet increased demand, Quatro has recently added 30% more manufacturing space to its Orange City, IA, facility for the manufacture of carbon-fiber panels, as well as structural aerospace composite brackets.
Most of the panels it produces are made with Toray T800 carbon epoxy prepreg.
The panels are manufactured from engineered laminate schedules in a variety of shapes and configurations. The panels are then machined, water jet cut, packaged, and shipped as specified by the customer.
Quatro also offers product-development services to aerospace companies. “The customer brings an aluminum part with a design space, attachment points, and part loading, and the Quatro team optimizes the part for weight, stiffness, thickness, geometry, and manufacturability,” Gamble explained. “On smaller fittings, we have seen up to 40% weight savings over the aluminum fitting.”
The company specializes in producing parts of complex geometry using bladder molding, compression molding, autoclave, and a proprietary out-of-autoclave process called UltraClave.