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Among Safran Group, Aircelle's subsidiary SLCA has long-established experience in complex assemblies for composite aerostructures. Rather than resting on its laurels, the company continues to uphold its expertise in the field by participating in different projects.
(Published on June 2008 – JEC Magazine #41)
SLCA is relying on its expertise to expand the engineering services it proposes to its customers. The company recently presented Airbus with 23 potential solutions for its new A400M military transport aircraft within a programme of weight reduction studies for aerostructures.
New service offering
Using the experience it has accumulated since 1980, SLCA developed a new engineering service to provide support for its customers’ weight-reduction and production-cost research. Not long ago, Airbus called on SLCA’s design office, located at Plaisir near Paris, to define concepts that could reduce the mass of a given A400M aircraft component by 100 kg. This service has involved three phases:
SLCA has already completed the first two phases, and its assessments confirm the feasibility of Airbus’ objective, i.e. reducing the weight of the aerostructure component in question by 12%. In a tribute to the company’s know-how in complex composite aerostructures, Airbus has hailed the quality of the work thus far accomplished and the relevance of the solutions proposed.
Expanding the use of composites
Concurrently with this latest initiative, SLCA has been investing in two innovative projects that should help to expand the use of composite materials in the aerospace industry.
CAPSAIRTM project focuses on perfecting and simplifying the manufacture of structural components using the Liquid Resin Infusion (LRI) process, from part design through the qualification process. It will serve to:
The partners involved in the project are SLCA, PPE, CINI and the ENSAM engineering school in Metz.
Comac, the second project, will serve to develop on-site monitoring systems for aeronautical components during production and operation. The system uses a defect detection tool that allows tailoring the control method as a function of the damage and the type of structure. Expected advantages are:
28 years of industrial expertise
SLCA applies its more than 28 years of industrial expertise in composites to partner with some of the best-known names in aeronautics. Today, its core business focuses on project management and the design and manufacturing of complex assemblies of composite components that must be integrated into the structure of the aircraft they are designed for.
The company’s expertise covers the complete range of manufacturing engineering techniques used to develop new products, based on collaborative engineering with its customers, and is backed by its supply chain network. It also includes the manufacturing/processing of complex assemblies that combine metal and composite parts. From its first composite contract in the early 1980’s (air scoops for the Airbus A310) to the landinggear doors on the A330/340 and the engine cowls for the NH90, SLCA is developing its skills and adapting them to airframer requirements and to new manufacturing techniques such as automatic lay-up, resin transfer moulding (RTM), or liquid resin infusion (LRI) technology.
JEC Composites Magazine: Could you tell us about the various projects you’re working on at the moment?
MR. LAURENT SCHNEIDER-MAUNOURY: SLCA has been chosen by the government to lead two technological development projects. The first project, CAPSAIRTM, aims at developing the use of the resin infusion process in aerostructures, applying it to large sandwich and integrally-stiffed parts. This project should reach material qualification stage and validate an innovative industrial process. A number of patents are expected to be registered. We are banking on improved industrial efficiency to enhance the competitiveness of our products, together with optimised concepts, so as to save weight, and better environmental efficiency. SLCA is backed by specialist partners from the Lorraine region, such as PPE, the French engineering school ENSAM in Metz and CINI (Lorraine-based tool-maker).
The second project, COMAC, aims at developing new portable means for inspecting and analysing composite materials. At a time where an increasing number of aircraft are starting to heavily rely on composites, it is essential to be able to provide end users with simple yet reliable analysis tools to check the good condition of aircraft that may have suffered damage during operation. Using composites to replace metallic materials – whose damage analysis is wellunderstood – means that such analysis techniques must be developed for composites. We are planning to both develop a series of new services and improve our production control systems to gain in flexibility and efficiency. SLCA has joined forces with several research organisations such as PPE, the Institut de Soudure (French welding institute), the Loria and Trefle laboratories, and the Visuol Company.
Finally, we are acting as an industrial expert in the Controltherm project which was launched with the goal of improving composite machining. These projects should help SLCA remain in the forefront of composite expertise and help us anticipate customer requirements by offering solutions that always meet their expectations.
JCM: Are you considering integrating new manufacturing processes?
L.S-M.: For almost thirty years now, SLCA has been developing the necessary skills to make the right choices in materials for the aerostructural requirements of its customers. As composite experts, we know how to determine the best locations for their optimum use. We know how to create composite parts that draw on every single advantage offered by these materials. Our R&D programmes will therefore help us broaden our technological range by integrating the resin infusion process and by developing new testing technologies.
JCM: What kind of business activities are you looking to develop today?
L.S-M.: We hope to develop our partnerships with aircraft manufacturers to take part in designing their new aircraft. We are also providing them with our technological and production capacities either to optimise existing products, e.g. redesigning to save weight, or to create new production sources to meet increased production rates. Lastly, both our current and future customers have access to our design expertise via our engineering services.
Our strength lies in our capacity to provide solutions that we know are industrially feasible as we are more than willing to take on the manufacturing aspects ourselves. We are currently working for Airbus on a project targeting a 12% weight reduction in one of the A400M packages in support of their current partner.
JCM: What kind of trends can be seen in the aeronautics sector on an international level?
L.S-M.: The aeronautics sector is in full expansion and is boosted by the global growth in air transport. Many new aircraft construction programmes involving strong customersupplier ties have been launched. Composite materials are radically changing the aeronautics sector. Players like SLCA, who are capable of assuming the full responsibility of a 52 JEC Composites Magazine / No41 June 2008 management and the design and manufacturing of complex assemblies of composite components that must be integrated into the structure of the aircraft they are designed for. The company’s expertise covers the complete range of manufacturing engineering techniques used to develop new products, based on collaborative engineering with its customers, and is backed by its supply chain network. It also includes the manufacturing/processing of complex assemblies that combine metal and composite parts. From its first composite contract in the early 1980’s (air scoops for the Airbus A310) to the landinggear doors on the A330/340 and the engine cowls for the NH90, SLCA is developing its skills and adapting them to airframer requirements and to new manufacturing techniques such as automatic lay-up, resin transfer moulding (RTM), or liquid resin infusion (LRI) technology. More information: www.slca.fr composite aerostructural package – from the design to the delivery of a ready-to-assembly product – are far and few apart. Even though several new players are proving to be fierce competitors, the number of opportunities should increase over the next few years.
JCM: Do you intend to explore different sectors other than those you’re already in?
L.S-M.: SLCA currently partners with Airbus and Eurocopter. If we wish to continue helping our current customers to develop, a whole palette of possibilities is open to us, whether in corporate jets or regional aircraft, not to mention other helicopter and aircraft manufacturers. Considering that SLCA belongs to the Safran Group, our favourite “hunting ground” is the aeronautics sector. We are concentrating our efforts in this sector in order to reap future successes. However, if customers from other sectors express their desire to work with us, we will carefully examine how we can meet their expectations with the utmost professionalism.
JCM: What is the basis of your growth strategy?
L.S-M.: SLCA is extremely intent on becoming a leading European player in the field of complex aerostructural systems. To meet customer expectations, we intend to draw on both our technological and economic strengths so as to continue developing our company’s economic model. We are exploiting all our assets, i.e. the skills and enthusiasm of our employees (skills acknowledged by our customers), combined with the flexibility that comes with the size of our middle size company and the robust backing of the Safran Group. It is this combination that empowers us with the ability to rise to the challenges set by our customers.
JCM: How do you see SLCA’s future and how would you like to position the company?
L.S-M.: Considering the direction in which the composite aerostructures market is heading, many opportunities have been popping up. SLCA has been sitting in the wings for too long and under-exploiting its assets.
These new prospects are slowly bringing us into the limelight. Due to the size our company, we will have to adapt to our customer demands. SLCA will be extremely proud to become one of the partners of the tiers 1 chosen by Airbus or Boeing to manage their major structural work packages For other customers, SLCA has the capacity and drive to directly help them to develop their new aircraft.