Evolution of Aircraft Manufacturing: Moving Towards a Lighter Material
In the early 2000s, the U.S. Airforce recruited BTG Labs to aid in the development of bonding technologies for composite materials to replace heavier aluminum and titanium in aircraft manufacturing. Carbon fiber composites provide lighter, stronger options for aircraft materials. But, to realize these advantages composites must attach by bonding, not by mechanical fasteners. The primary obstacle to bonding has been the lack of a practical way to inspect a bond surface and ensure that they have been prepared in a way that will produce a strong, reliable bond. Thus, they needed a method to adhere the composites effectively, efficiently, and confidently.
Measuring Surface Energy to Ensure the Success of Bonded Composites
Giles Dillingham, CEO and Chief Scientist of BTG Labs knew that the key to reproducible control of a bond surface lay in being able to measure the properties of the material’s surface. With a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research Contract, Giles recruited a team of three engineers. Their goal: to develop an instrument for determining the surface readiness to bond between composites, metals, and other materials. Ergo, they came up with a small, accurate, handheld instrument to quickly analyze a surface and provide quantifiable information, in seconds, on the factory floor. By determining a way in which to measure the contact angle of a drop of water on the surface, they were able to create this easy to use, portable instrument that can measure the surface energy of a substrate accurately and non-destructively.
Phase II brought the Surface Analyst™ prototype which is always evolving. Today, it is sold widely across a vast array of industries from automotive to medical devices. Lockheed Martin boasts a savings of 25 million dollars by implementing 12 Surface Analysts in 2015. They now include a Surface Analyst in every sale of the F-35 as part of the repair equipment package. BTG Labs continues to work vigorously in the air force and aerospace industry and it still supported by DARPA.
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