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Rolls-Royce to create composites technology hub in Bristol

04 April 2015

Rolls-Royce has announced a centre of advanced fan system composites technology development at Bristol, that will create a UK hub of composites knowledge.

Image: Shutterstock

The hub will benefit from manufacturing techniques being developed in partnership with the National Composites Centre (NCC), part of the University of Bristol.

It will also be boosted by research being conducted at the University's Rolls-Royce Composites University Technology Centre to provide validated analysis methods for the design and manufacture of composites components.

The advanced manufacturing facility will be at the forefront of developing the next generation of fan blades and fan cases, made of carbon-fibre composite materials, for Rolls-Royce’s future aero-engines.

The Rolls-Royce CTi (carbon/titanium) blades are a key feature of the new Advance engine design, unveiled last year, which will offer at least 20 percent less fuel burn and CO2 emissions than the first generation of the Trent aero-engine.

The blades and associated composite engine casings will form part of the new CTi fan system that could reduce weight by up to 1,500lb per aircraft, the equivalent of carrying seven more passengers and their luggage.

The processes used in their CTi manufacturing technology capability on the Isle of Wight composites facility were developed within Rolls-Royce and through work carried out at the NCC, a world-leading research and technology hub owned by the University of Bristol.

The development work on the Rolls-Royce CTi (carbon/titanium) blade manufacturing technology has led to their decision to locate the centre for advanced fan system composite technology development in Bristol.

Professor Richard Day

The pre-production facility in Bristol will be developed within an existing building alongside Rolls-Royce’s new facility for carbon-fibre electrical harness rafts. 

Carbon-fibre composites are predominantly used in the aerospace industry to enable significant reduction in weight, leading to lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions. Rolls-Royce has been involved in developing carbon-fibre technologies for several decades and already uses the material for a number of parts within its aero engines. Innovative automated methods have been developed specifically for producing composite fan blades and fan casings.

Curing composites with microwaves

Meanwhile, a new initiative to cut significantly the time needed to make complex composite aircraft components has been launched with the award of an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) High Value Manufacturing Catapult Fellowship.

Professor Richard Day, of Glyndwr University in Wrexham, will work with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC) and the NCC in Bristol to develop microwave technology that industry could use to cut curing times, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Microwave ovens would provide an alternative to conventional technology, using autoclaves.

Researchers have been using microwaves to cure composites for some years, but have yet to develop robust processes that could be used by industry to make geometrically complex parts, as opposed to flat panels.

The four year research programme will explore and overcome manufacturing problems associated with microwave curing, before going on to make complex components, identical to those used in aircraft.

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