The Experimental Fabrication Facility's five-axis router creates a mold. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)
› View Larger Image Increasingly complex composite components and parts require the latest industry-standard equipment. Recently, the Dryden Experimental Fabrication Facility began operation of such a machine.
The five-axis router enables easier fabrication of composite parts, frees up other machinery and allows the fabrication facility to handle the creation of the latest composite parts and components, explained Ed Swan, Experimental Fabrication branch chief.
Increasing numbers of aircraft are made of, or are using, composite materials like lightweight and stronger carbon-carbon fibers. That includes several Dryden planes, such as the Global Hawks and Ikhana aircraft.
Though other fabrication facility tools are capable, the five-axis router is dedicated to making composite parts and does not require the delays caused by waiting for the other machines to be freed up to make the part, he added. The parts are also more easily and efficiently made on the router, without the day to set up, one to two days to do the work on it and a day to clean up from using another machine, he said.
The router, which is dedicated to composite work, can be programmed to cut a mold. Simultaneously, the technician prepares the composite set-up so everything is ready to make the part without delays or holding up work on other projects. It takes half the time to fabricate a mold for a part or component using the router.
The new machine also specializes in making molds out of a number of materials and can fabricate parts as a single piece. Once the mold is made, the composite material can be applied to it and then pulled off.
The Experimental Fabrication Facility recently began operations with a five-axis router that expands the facility's capabilities. From left in front of the router are Jeromy Robbins, Aaron Pahs, Eric Nisbet and Ed Swan. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)
› View Larger Image The equipment was an essential addition to the fabrication facility's capabilities in order to keep pace with industry standards for making composite parts. The addition of the machine allows Dryden the capability of making parts here, rather than contracting out for the work, Swan said.
Besides providing more control of schedule and costs, Swan said it also allows more flexibility in meeting the needs of the researcher or technician that needs a special one-of-a-kind component or part.
For example, he said the part design might be the first of its kind and the engineer might not have the exact specifications and notice changes are needed as his or her research continues. Because the part is made at Dryden, the center doesn't have to pay for changes that are required along the way and the needs of the researchers and technicians can be met without losing more time, he said. Already fabricated by the new router are parts for the G-III, the ER-2 and the Global Hawk.
Whatever the composite part or component fabrication job, the fabrication facility is now better prepared to handle it.