Unison Industries LLC (Jacksonville, FL)

A manufacturing process to make components for engines in aircraft employs the reusable smart memory polymer reconfigurable mandrel tools, low temperature deposition of metal, and composite part lay-up with resin-coated conformable braided carbon fiber sleeves. They are used to create the internal parts of engines made of metal as well as non-metal external components for turbine engines.

Modern aircraft engines are equipped with a number of tubes and ducts which are utilized to carry a variety of fluids (e.g. air, oil, fuels, etc.). are generally known as fluid delivery systems. Complex geometry is often located in tubes and ducts in 3D space. The ducts can have multiple bends, geometrical or non-cylindrical shapes, different cross-sectional dimensions (tapering) and intricate transitions between cylindrical to rectangular cross-sectional shapes. These shapes pose manufacturing issues and challenges.

For instance, the fabrication of metal parts often requires several operations like cutting, bending, stamping and welding or brazing. To counteract the thermal deformation that is caused by joining, sub-components might need to be thicker than necessary. Additionally when a design modification occurs, a new tooling set is required. A number of sub-components can be joined using brazing or fusion welding to make a final tube.

For instance, the rigid cure tools/mandrels are often used to fabricate non-metal parts. However, the process of removing a mandrel or the cured component from the duct could be time-consuming, expensive, and difficult. This is particularly true when the duct or formed part has a complex geometrical structure (such as the ones found in the components of aircraft engines) and makes it difficult to remove the part from the mandrel’s rigid structure.

Another way of making is by using an elongated mold. After the piece has dried, it is able to be disassembled and taken apart into sections. However, these mandrels can be costly and time-consuming to install and remove. Moreover, such segmented mandrels are typically designed to form a single part, and are not easily reconfigured to form other various types of components.

There are other methods for removal of the mandrel include the destruction of the mandrel through cutting and dissolving, or otherwise breaking the mandrel down into more easily removable pieces. Hammer et al published Patent Application No.US2014/0023812A1. This patent describes the methods of removing mandrels employed in the production of aircraft fluid delivery pipes with acid, which dissolves it. These destructive techniques can not only prevent the mandrel’s reuse, but also may cause damages to the ducts or formedparts. Additionally, expendable tools may result in additional costs for processing parts and tools.

Still other known production processes may use less destructive inflatable/deflatable balloon-like mandrels. These bladder-type machines, however, often aren’t strong enough and lack stiffness and strength, and could require support the struts and other structures for load support, during the part fabrication process. This type of tooling, however, is complicated and costly for many designs.

Another common method is to make parts for engines in aircraft using an ad hoc model, substrate mandrel, mold, and the tooling set. A mold or set of molds or set of components for making a mold is often referred to as a tooling.

For instance, the process of creating composite components using shape memory polymer (SMP) mandrels is a well-known process. See U.S. Pat. No. 7,422,714B1, for an “Method of Utilizing Shape Memory Material For Composite Part Manufacturing”, issued to Hood et al, onSep. 8, 2008; and, see the Methods and Systems to Co-Boil and Cure Composite Parts Using an SMP Rigid/Malleable Apparatus sent to Havens et al on February 10, 2015.

SMPs are materials made of polymers that have characteristics modified to create flexible shape “memory” properties. SMPs get their name because they can return to their original form “memorized” after being subject to shape deformation. SMPs pre-formed are able to be bent into any shape you like. After deformation, in order to preserve the thermoformed shape (i.e., to “lock” during deformation) the SMP should remain below, or be quenched lower than “Tg”. (Tg is the glass transition temperature of the particular type of SMP selected to be utilized for deformation.) The SMP will remain in its deformed form indefinitely if it is heated to temperatures above Tg once more. Then the SMP will return to its original (“remembered”) state. These characteristics of SMP are well-known in the art (see Hood ‘714 at column 3.

While the Hood’714 method makes use of a mandrel made of SMP that is reusable It is believed that the SMP comes composed of particles or gel or that it is reinforced by fibrous materials (such as textile fabric

Given the aforementioned deficiencies, a need exists for an improved method for forming engine parts, that does not suffer from the above limitations, solves some of the concomitant problems indicated above, and employs tooling with mold/mandrelmaterials that enable both reuse and reconfiguration. Another method is needed to make duct and tube assemblies that permit fluid delivery into the engines of aircraft.

A method of low-temperature metal deposition on tooling that is reconfigurable to SMP is an embodiment of the invention. The current manufacturing process conceptually comprises three phases. They are further discussed in the following paragraphs.

In some situations the invention provides the method of creating an object piece that is suitable for fluid delivery using low temperature metal deposition and a reusable reconfigurable SMP. This method involves providing an amandrel with SMP having a pre-formed shape and a glass transition temperature of Tg (Tg) making a tooling assembly with an object, and then putting the preformed SMP into contact with the mold. The SMP will then deform to replicate the shape of the mold. The process also involves coating the outer surface of the deformed SMP using an electrically conductive material, placing the entire tooling inside a low-temperature electroplating tank, applying voltage to electrochemically deposit metal on the surface of the tooling, and then heating it until the SMP turns malleable.

In addition to use in creating metal internal aircraft engine parts, another embodiment of the present invention can be utilized to fabricate non-metal exterior parts of aircraft engines. These parts may be found, for instance on the exterior of turbine engines. A second example uses SMP mandrels in combination with resin coated woven conformable Carbon fiber sleeves to make the non-metal exterior parts.

Other embodiments can be used for, for instance low-temperature tubes or conduits within a fluid delivery systems or composite laminate parts for mounting brackets and housings for fan cases.

Many of the shape shifting properties of SMP materials have been well-known by the scientific community for years, (e.g., see the previously mentioned Hood ‘714 patent, and the various SMP related references in the patents). However, the known processing techniques or techniques do not teach the concepts described in the present invention. Processes that are well-known do not provide techniques or methods of fabricating components for aircraft engines that have complicated 3-D tube and duct geometries with crossing-sections that change, by using smart polymer tooling in a novel manner described and claimed in the present invention.

Further features and advantages of the invention, as well as the design and operation of different embodiments of the invention, are discussed in greater detail below, with reference to the drawings accompanying them. It should be important to note that the invention is notlimited to the specific embodiments discussed herein. These embodiments are intended for illustration purposes. Persons skilled in the relevant art(s), using the lessons herein can find additional examples.

Click here to view the patent on USPTO website.


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