COMPOLAB: Composite materials laboratory for aeronautics at Terrassa

25/11/2009 (Spain)
COMPOLAB: Composite materials laboratory for aeronautics at Terrassa

This new laboratory is inaugurated on 25 November 2009 at Intexter, the textiles laboratory at the UPC campus in Terrassa, as a result of collaboration with the UPC Department of Materials, the UPC School of Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering (ETSEIAT), the SENER engineering company and the CTAE Aerospace Research and Technology Centre. The laboratory will be used for student hands-on training, research on advanced composite materials and manufacturing processes, especially for aeronautic applications.

“COMPOLAB” starts with two large machines specifically developed for the laboratory, fully assembled and ready for use, together with the general support equipment of a materials and textiles laboratory.

Use of Composites in Aircraft Design

First developed for military aircraft applications, back in the 1970’s, composites have found a broad range of applications in current generation military aerospace systems. For instance, Eurofighter is the most advanced military aircraft using composite materials, 40 % of its structural weight is carbon-fibre reinforced composite material.

Not only military but also commercial transport aviation has witnessed a significant increase in exploiting composites for structural purposes. In the 1980’s, commercial aviation used composites in control surfaces (horizontal stabilizer and tail) reaching a 10% of total airframe in different commercial aviation models such as A310 Airbus and B757 Boeing. By the year 2000, the weight savings caused by composite materials achieved 30% in different commercial planes like A380 Airbus, A320 Airbus, A340 Airbus and B777 Boeing reaching almost 50% with the new generation of airplanes like A350 Airbus and B787 Boeing.

Advanced composites have emerged as the structural materials of choice for many aerospace applications because of their superior specific strength, stiffness properties and superior physical properties. Several parts of a commercial plane such as wing and tails, fuselages, and light weight landing gears are designed and manufactured with composites reducing the total gross weight up to 20%. There are alternative research in the field of composite materials which will create weight reductions such as aero-mechanical propulsion designs, hot section, materials and secondary systems as well as optimizing drag reduction and laminar flow control.

Composites for Aerospace Applications

Composite materials have many advantages comparing with metallic counterparts; for instance, can be formed into more complex shapes reducing the number of parts to make up a component. The reduced parts are critical in terms of stress or crack failure like joints and fasteners. Not to forget the reduced time in the assembly line. However, shorter assembly times need to be compensated against greater time to fabricate a composite material component.

Hot Forming Machine and Filler Machine are two important pieces of equipment to research on new forming processes to compensate and reduce the time to fabricate composite components in comparison with metallic ones. Besides, fundamental research in advanced composite materials is also possible.


Any company interested in using this laboratory is welcome, it is intended to support multiple functions:

  • Industrial research programs and contracts
  • University projects and thesis work
  • PhD research
  • Training of technical staff in the materials, methods and handling of composites

Filler Machine Prototype

This machinery is designed to pultrude unidirectional pre-impregnated tapes of composites, to obtain variable section fillers at green stage (uncured materials). The filler parts are used as subcomponents for one shot complex cured spars and stringers.

The design of the machinery is done to be easily configured and improved. It’s used to validate new products and its related parameters. Woven and other materials are considered to be applicable for pultrusion.

Hot Forming Machine

Prototype The Hot Drape Forming (HDF) process is a consistent system to pre-form flat composite laminates to a desired shape at green stage (uncured materials). Composite Spars and Stringers are the principal parts used for this machinery. The main required study before using any HDF process is the conformation of the desired shape without wrinkles. This machine is able to test parts up to 4 meters long, enough to validate the proposed shape.

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