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Making Stronger Components from Composites

In the West, a consortium of major aerospace companies and small- to medium-sized enterprises are working with composite materials to make airplane components stronger and lighter, which in turn make the aircraft more efficient.

That’s the hope of the Canadian Composites Manufacturing Research and Development consortium (CCMRD), which opened for business in April 2010.

"Our first project was looking at ‘co-process’ development," explained Michael Hudek, Executive Director of the CCMRD. "The intent is to reduce the manufacturing time and labour content and overall costs of manufacturing highly integrated composite structures, which we are trying to do by combining multiple processes together that otherwise would be done in a series. That is the main thrust."

Although it’s early, the CCMRD hopes this project will lead to the adoption of these new processes by industry. By helping transform the latest technical and academic knowledge into practical solutions, the consortium can make Canada’s manufacturing sector more globally competitive.

All major aerospace manufacturers are already using composite materials. Finding ways to develop and integrate composites more efficiently, said Hudek, can increase the competitiveness of western Canadian manufacturers and reveal new applications for the consortium’s innovations.

Over the past year, CCMRD has been initiating new projects aimed at enhancing Canada’s composites manufacturing capabilities.

Composites are made from two or more distinct materials that combine to create a better, stronger and more durable product. Today’s composites consist of many different varieties: fibreglass, carbon or graphite, aramid, polypropylene and even naturally occurring materials such as flax, hemp and straw. These are bound by resin systems such as epoxy, polyester and polyurethane.

With this project completed, the Consortium has initiated plans for four new projects. Meanwhile, the Consortium keeps growing, having added two new members companies in the spring of 2011. It’s a pretty hectic pace for a one-year old research organization, or what might be called a ‘virtual technology centre.’

Consortium members are the first to gain access to the technology that emerges from their research. Since they do the bulk of the research themselves as part of the Consortium, they are already the best suited manufacturers to apply the results of the research to real-world projects.

"The resources we apply to products are the resources of our members and strategic partners like the National Research Council," said Hudek, who envisions the Consortium expanding further in the future to partner with universities and even private-sector niche providers who would be retained on a fee-for-services basis.

The current partners include both small and large enterprises, like Boeing, which is investing in the Consortium as part of its IRB commitment. The federal government’s IRB policy requires prime contractors that are awarded major defence and security contracts to provide Canada with new business activities equal to 100 per cent of the contract value.

The CCMRD is an initiative of the Composites Innovation Centre (CIC), a not-for-profit organization located on the University of Manitoba campus in Winnipeg. WD has made significant investments to the CIC, which in turn provides support to the consortium. Since its founding, the CIC has been working to stimulate economic growth through innovative research and development, and the application of composite materials and technology for manufacturing industries.