A project which brings together experts from the aviation and automotive sectors has completed the first welds on an aerospace wing skin demonstrator.
Developed by the eTau group, which is funded by Innovate UK and a partnership between Gestamp, CAV Systems, Laser Optical Engineering, Prodtex and TWI, this exciting development could create new possibilities for aircraft design, especially near leading edges, as it will allow the number of skin joints to be reduced.
The TAU robot system has a large working volume and is configurable to suit many applications across multiple sectors.
The weld also has the ability to produce a smooth finished surface requiring only minimal final dressing on one face to meet aerodynamic requirements, thus reducing the number of steps and gaps on the surface therefore improving aerodynamic efficiency by reducing drag.
Ricky Cartright, Prodtex eTau project lead said: “This first wing skin has demonstrated the success of the technology delivering the ability to increase the width and create near net shape parts to reduce follow on machining processes. Due to the TAU robot design the length of these skins can be increased considerably to suit many more applications.”
Martin Wood, CAV eTau project lead added: “We are all thrilled with the results. It is a major breakthrough for the eTau project and demonstrates how working in collaboration can benefit both the aviation and automotive industries.”
Integrated with a laser processing head and fibre delivery, the lightweight system is capable of high-rate welding for rapid production throughput.
The butt welds for the wing skin followed a complex curved geometry, offline programming and simulation ensured accurate positioning of the TAU robot prior to final welding.
The wing skin was manufactured from several titanium sheet metal parts of varying thickness to produce a large, near-net-shape component. The ability to successfully join different thicknesses removes the need for subsequent machining or chemical etching processes that are traditionally used, reducing cost and waste.
The wing skin included a butt weld along the entire span of 2m, a weld required to extend the width of the material beyond what was available from the material manufacturer.
A 30 month project, eTau was established to advance laser welding, robotics & control, tooling and sensors for the automotive and aerospace sectors.
Throughout this period, the partners have worked collaboratively bringing to life a wide range of innovations, including two demonstrators, a welded bumper assembly for automotive and a welded titanium wing skin for use in the aerospace industry.