GKN Aerospace has purchased its first industrial standard microwave oven, becoming one of only a few industrial organizations worldwide to own a machine for its own research use.
Phil Grainger, Senior Technical Director and Chief Technologist, GKN Aerospace, said: "This investment in microwave curing will deliver clear benefits in the drive for greater process flexibility, reduced manufacturing times, higher-rate manufacture, and lower energy consumption."
The new equipment will be used by GKN Aerospace engineers in Munich, Germany, to progress research work that has been ongoing since 2005 into the use of microwaves in the production of composite structures. Currently, the curing process is most commonly achieved using an autoclave. The autoclave is a highly effective processing oven, but it is expensive, time-consuming, and energy-heavy, says GKN, representing a significant and relatively inflexible bottleneck in the manufacturing process.
"Microwave processing promises to remove much of this costly bottleneck,” said Grainger. “It could cut processing times by 50%, and we are seeing evidence that energy consumption could be cut by a staggering 90%."
The challenge for the research engineers is to turn this potential into industrially ready processes for the next generation of aircraft projects, such as the next narrow-body civil aircraft.
GKN Aerospace purchased the oven from Votsch Industrietechnik GmbH. It has a working chamber of 7000 L and power of 30 kW. With microwave technology, only the product is heated and requires cooling while the associated tooling and the oven chamber itself remain cool, according to GKN. This dramatically reduces heating and cooling times as well as energy consumption.
GKN Aerospace in Munich has been researching the use of microwaves in composites manufacture as part of a German BMBF funded project, which also involves German partners from the aerospace and automotive industries.