SciFi Innovations Develops Technology that Joins Polymers to Metals for Aerospace Industry
Machines that fly, from rocket ships to commercial jets to delivery drones, are made of different types of materials—aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber composites, and more.
Imagine the challenge of fabricating those disparate materials into aerospace subsystems that achieve the highest levels of safety and the demanding specifications of strength and weight for modern air vehicle applications.
That’s where a ground-breaking materials technology presented by spinout SciFi Innovations and The Ohio State University (OSU) introduces exciting new possibilities to the aerospace industry. This technology was developed at the Center for Ultrasonic Additive manufacturing in OSU’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Smart Carbon Fiber Integration (S-CFI) Improves Durability, Reduces Costs
SciFi Innovations is commercializing a technology for joining carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRP) to metals with integrated sensing. This hybrid material technology, termed smart carbon fiber integration, enables multi-material aerospace structures that are more durable, inspectable, and maintainable than current alternatives.
“We have a joining technology that uses ultrasonics to build up layers of materials into a unified structure,” said Rick Myers, SciFi CEO. “We are able to join metals of different types to each other as well as dry carbon fiber to metals, prior to layup and cure into a final CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced polymer) structure. We are joining materials that are notordinarily thought of as being joined in this way, while also fundamentally addressing corrosion concerns.”
The manufacturing process involves specialized machines that use high-frequency ultrasonic vibration and pressure to build the parts without melting.
The low temperature enables the integration of metals, high-strength fibers, and electronics into “smart” lightweight structures. Subcomponents made of these hybrid materials could be fed into an existing assembly process and joined with other parts using conventional welding or metal-to-metal fasteners without requiring rework of the manufacturing line or facility.
Once deployed, the S-CFI structures combine high strength-to-weight ratio with an intrinsic ability to utilize its sensors to detect damage and perform other electronic functions.
Accelerated Commercialization Plans
SciFi Innovations is working with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) under Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant to further explore aerospace applications of the S-CFI technology.
“We are still in the developmental stage. The next milestone is to develop a testing facility with ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) equipment to begin design of our first minimum viable product (MVP). Although the UAM technology has demonstrated enormous promise as a low-volume process, SciFi Innovations aims to realize high-volume manufacturing of aerospace structures,” said Myers.
SciFi Innovations and OSU will be developing new computational models and simulations, as well as quality control processes and measurements.
“Things have evolved more rapidly than I dared hope,” Myers said. “We have gone from a concept discussion with OSU to successful Phase I and Phase II STTR awards in just over a year. We plan to continue growing the technology and move it from the lab to commercial applications at an accelerated pace.”