Home' Australian Aviation Magazine : October 2009 Contents 61
OCTOBER 2009 AUSTRALIAN AVIATION
facility and if fully drawn would give it up
to a 20 per cent stake in the company.
Along the way, Quickstep has also been
involved in partnerships with leading
aerospace and defence companies includ-
ing Sikorsky, Eurocopter, Airbus, EDAG
Australia and BAE Systems for both
manufacturing work and de velopment of
the Quickstep Process.
THE QUICKSTEP PROCESS
A major part of the company ’s operations
has been the development and commer-
cialisation of its patented out-of-autoclave
carbon composite curing processes.
Traditionally, carbon composites are
made of carbon fibres impregnated with
resin. The composites are then placed into
an autoclave, which heats the resin and
allows it to cure, creating a part which in
most cases is stronger than metal while
weighing much less.
With the Q uickstep Process, the auto-
clave is replaced with a gloycol-type fluid
held in bladders, which are then closed to
form a clam around the tool and part. Gen-
erally fluid transfers heat 25 times more
effectively than the gasses in an autoclave.
As such, using the fluid approach allows for
rapid heating and cooling, significantly cut-
ting down the ramp up and pull down time.
“Q uickstep is a fluid curing process. It ’s
in two bladders so you put the tool in, close
the bladders down and they ’re right against
the fluid. We can transfer energy into that
fluid and into that tool at an enormous rate
that gas simply can’t do,” said Graham.
“Literally, the way we see the Quickstep
Process is we’ve invented a new oven. Some
things don’t cook as well in it because
they ’re designed to cook in other ovens. We
can often adjust the process to meet the
requirements but it just takes a long time.
Other things we can cook to perfection in
extraordinary ways that would never have
been possible in autoclaves by example.”
In particular, the process is useful for
curing thick pieces of composite laminate,
variable thickness parts or unusual shapes,
as it can allow for rapid heat transfer to
the part and often improved bonding at
the molecular le vel, helping to improve
strength and lower the risk of delamination.
In most cases, these can be challenging to
do in an autoclave as they require precise
temperature controls, often with long ramp
up and cool down periods.
Practically speaking, the method could
lead to the development of new high-
strength composite structural parts, such as
wing spars, which have been challenging to
produce using autoclaves.
However, Graham says that the Quick-
step Process is not designed to replace
auto claves completely. “ Th e Q uickstep
Process is som etimes a round process
that needs to fit a square hole,” he said.
“Sometimes we deal with prepreg resins
designed for autoclaves, which have
worked in autoclaves for 20 years. Put
them in the Quickstep process and we
have to mollycoddle them in ramp up,
dwell times and ramp down, but we can
often still reduce cure cycles by 30 plus
per cent if we ’re lucky.
“If it doesn’t have the challenging twists,
massive thickness, specialist cores which we
have our advantage in, then that ’s non com-
plex shape autoclave country. Autoclaves are
going to be around for a long time because it
enables these large simple shaped parts to be
stacked in a big oven and cooked in one cy-
cle, but where it can’t is where the Q uickstep
Process will come in.
“ With the Quickstep Process we can
ramp the temperature up so quickly that
the resin is rapidly liquefied, enabling us,
where needed, to cure massive parts of
laminates of 50mm thickness or more. As
we control the curing chamber in each
section of the part we can vary the cure
properties. For example we may cure a part
with 300 laminate thickness on one end
tapered to 100 at the other end all in the
one cycle – that is radical.”
The Quickstep Process is also being used
to demonstrate new possibilities with com-
posites, such as being able to ‘meld ’ two piec-
es of composite together. In the long term,
this could replace the need to use fasteners
in some automotive and aerospace parts.
“ With Quickstep, we can do what we call
‘Quickstop’. We can cure a section of the
part while leaving another section uncured,
then join that uncured section to another
uncured part and co-cure them, creating
a fully integrated part with no secondary
bonding. That ’s a breakthrough, but it is
likely to appear on automotive parts before
a flying part,” said Graham.
The method has been successfully prov-
ing its advantages to the US Department
of Defense, EADS and Airbus. The most
progressed commercial aircraft project us-
ing the Q uickstep Process is with Com-
posites Technology Research Malaysia
(CTRM), which is the fifth largest supplier
of composites to Airbus. Together, the two
companies are working to fast-track an
evaluation and certification of the method
due in the last quarter of this year, with a
view to introducing it to CTRM’s produc-
tion facility in Melaka.
“CTRM have said, ‘We’ve got this part
for an Airbus contract which has some idi-
osyncrasies to it, and we’d like to be able to
produce it faster and cheaper,” said Graham.
“ With CTRM, we see that as impor-
tant, it’s a part that goes on a new Airbus
aircraft and this is the first entry for
the Q uickstep Process on a commercial
aircraft We are working with CTRM and
Airb us is watching.
“So we will expect to see more commer-
cial development projects coming through
with other subcontractors and primes.
They ’ll be looking for reducing costs and
resolution of technically challenging parts.
Where the Q uickstep Process provides fast
cycle times, better part qualities or reduces
the steps of manufacturing is where we
stand out – we solve problems and/or save
them money,” said Graham.
For companies such as CTRM, it is
hoped that the Quickstep Process will
allow them to gain competitive capabilities
for complex composite work, which is in-
creasingly needed in a world where China
and India are set to become larger players.
“ These players that need to compete with
China need to work with processes like
Quickstep and others to have an advantage
that China doesn’t,” said Graham.
The technology also has potential appli-
cation to a number of other industries, with
NEW PROCESS The Quickstep Process is being used to demonstrate new possibilities with composites, such
as being able to meld two pieces of composite together. (Quickstep)
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