INNOVATIVE DESIGN, OOA MANUFACTURING AND C-PLY LAMINATE CONSTRUCTION PRODUCE “BIG FABRICATOR” AEROSTRUCTURES IN FEWER STEPS AT LOW COST.
VX Aerospace is an advanced composites company near the Appalachian Mountains in Morganton, N.C., close to a growing composites hub in the Carolinas that is home to several of VX Aero’s key suppliers, Chomarat North America (Anderson, S.C.), Materials Innovation Technologies (MIT, Fletcher, N.C.), Highland Industries (Kernersville, N.C.), Saertex USA (Huntersville, N.C.) and, soon, Toray Industries (Tokyo, Japan), which has a new carbon fiber plant near Spartanburg, S.C., on the drawing board to support the booming aero-composites manufacturing base in Charleston, S.C.
Although VX Aero designs and manufactures a wide range of tooling and parts for automotive and heavy-truck applications, and even carbon fiber-reinforced composite ceiling fan blades, aerospace structures are its core competency. It is certified to AS-9100:2009, the “aerospace standard” for quality management and a prerequisite for participation in military and commercial aircraft production.
VX Aero’s founder and chief engineer, Bob Skillen, is a degreed aerospace engineer and ex-U.S. Navy F-14 aviator. His more than 25 years of experience in manufacturing includes tenures in Navy depot operations and on the MIL-Handbook- 5 and NAS standards committees. On his watch, VX Aerospace was the first composites manufacturer to field an outof- autoclave (OOA) part on an active-duty Navy aircraft, the CH-46E SeaKnight helicopter. VX Aero has designed, prototyped and produced more than six-dozen unique composite components for that craft, many replacing aluminum parts.
A comparatively small firm, VX Aerospace thrives on its ability to innovate quickly and cost-effectively. Skillen credits that, in large part, to today’s computer- aided modeling (CAM) and computer numerical control (CNC) machining technologies, which speed product development, and the advent of high-quality OOA processing: Parts lay up in the company’s 4,000-ft2 (372m2) clean-room and then cured in its 40-ft by 12-ft by 10-ft high (12m by 4m by 3m) propane fired oven. Complete cure cycle logs are printed and saved for traceability, thanks to a Yokogawa (Tokyo, Japan) digital temperature controller and DASYLab data recording software from Measurement Computing Corp. (Norton, Mass.). Together, these tools have helped level the playing field in his case, says Skillen, between big and small manufacturers in terms of capability. But he also places special emphasis on his company’s willingness to adopt new composite materials” most recently, thin, biaxial reinforcements called C-PLY.