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Air Force Research Lab aims to speed up certification of composite structures

AFRL and CHESS leverage beamline technology to analyze AM parts

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A joint team from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) are working with industry partners to accelerate the certification of composite structures made using advanced manufacturing processes like additive manufacturing.

Working through CHESS’ Materials Solutions Network (MSN), the team will aim to establish composite manufacturing as a “physics-based exact science.” This will allow for composite production to become more predictable and thus more efficient.

The advancement in composite certification will be enabled thanks to an upgraded facility at CHESS. The new site will provide the necessary tools for AFRL and CHESS researchers to make advancements in composite materials, processes and designs for aerospace and military-grade parts. Ultimately, the goal is to unlock shorter certification lead times for advanced composite materials and processes such as additive manufacturing.

Air Force composite certification
AFRL and CHESS researchers

“The facility is unique because it combines state-of-the-art synchrotron-based resources and techniques with an explicit mission to address current and emerging challenges of advanced manufacturing,” explained Arthur Woll, Director of the MSN-C subfacility. “This combination of capabilities and mission allows projects at MSN-C to be prioritized by their importance to addressing manufacturing challenges, rather than their relevance to academic scholarship. Furthermore, CHESS is one of only five high-energy synchrotron facilities worldwide, making it particularly suitable for the kinds of measurements needed to address these challenges.”

CHESS’ updated facility is equipped with an array of cutting-edge technologies, including a structural materials X-ray beamline (that uses high energy X-rays to analyze metals, ceramics and certain composites) and a functional materials beamline (with lower energy, suitable for soft materials like polymers and lightweight composites).

The beamlines enable researchers to inspect the material composition of structural components in real time. The systems, which are capable of atomic-scale observations, gather valuable measurement data, such as material structure, interfacial quality and gaps, which in turn enable AFRL and CHESS personnel to fix problems faster and achieve a repeatable process.

“We are now able to look at crystallization of thermoplastic feedstock and composites during 3D printing in real time, at one micrometer resolution,” said Dr. Hilmar Koerner, research team lead in the Structural Materials Division of AFRL. “Mapping the detailed out-of-equilibrium and time dependent morphology data of resins and reinforcement filler onto the process history will allow manufacturers to see fine details in hours to a few days rather than months and years, allowing them to make much quicker go/no-go decisions compared to the past.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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