Developing New Techniques for Repairing Composite Aircraft Components

When Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. announced plans to purchase scores of new airplanes from Airbus and Bombardier, the carrier made clear its focus was on remaking its fleet with lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft.

Aerospace manufacturers relied heavily on composite materials for this latest generation of passenger jets. While composite parts have been used for decades, today as much as half of all airplane components can be made of composites, including major structures such as wings and the fuselage.

For airlines, the shift to composites creates an opportunity to rethink the repair and maintenance operations needed to keep jets in top form. Although the first of Delta’s new jets won’t enter service until fall 2017, the airline is already searching for better ways to maintain and repair composite aircraft parts — which are very different from the metal parts it has been maintaining for years 

The airline is partnering with Georgia Tech to take a close look at current methods used to repair composite parts and identify ways to increase efficiency and bring down costs.

“Airlines want to create their own know-how on how to fix these structures because it’s cheaper and probably faster,” said Chuck Zhang, a professor in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “But improved technologies are needed to help in the repair of composite parts. Much of it today is done by hand.”

Read the complete article in Research Horizons magazine

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