MIT Engineers Develop Method to Produce Aerospace-Grade Composites without Huge Ovens or Autoclaves

January 20 2020

MIT engineers have developed a method to produce aerospace-grade composites without the enormous ovens and pressure vessels. The technique may help to speed up the manufacturing of airplanes and other large, high-performance composite structures, such as blades for wind turbines.

The researchers detail their new method in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces. "If you're making a primary structure like a fuselage or wing, you need to build a pressure vessel, or autoclave, the size of a two- or three-story building, which itself requires time and money to pressurize," says Brian Wardle, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. "These things are massive pieces of infrastructure. Now we can make primary structure materials without autoclave pressure, so we can get rid of all that infrastructure."

"In these tests, we found that our out-of-autoclave composite was just as strong as the gold-standard autoclave process composite used for primary aerospace structures," Wardle says.

The team will next look for ways to scale up the pressure-generating carbon nanotube (CNT) films. He plans also to explore different formulations of nanoporous films, engineering capillaries of varying surface energies and geometries, to be able to pressurize and bond other high-performance materials.

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