$2 million grant will fund advanced composites technology at WSU


Wichita State University has received a $2 million grant contract from the U.S. Economic Development Association to develop and demonstrate advanced composite material manufacturing technology.

The grant, secured by WSU Strategic Initiatives, will provide funding for essential equipment needed for the Advanced Technology Laboratory for Aerospace Systems (ATLAS) within WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research. ATLAS investigates the development of manufacturing protocols for automated fiber placement (AFP) and automated tape laying (ATL) for aircraft systems.

The grant will provide funding for the purchase of a tape slitter; vacuum table; autoclave with wireless sensors, rheometer, nitrogen generator and a heated platen press, which will be used in the development of manufacturing protocols for automated fiber placement processes for thermoplastic aircraft primary structures.

Currently, labor-intensive nondestructive inspection for quality assurance interrupts automated fiber placement processes. The proposed project will develop and demonstrate incorporation of real-time inspections with automated fiber placement processes and machine learning algorithms.

The in-process inspection system developed by ATLAS researchers will learn to automatically identify manufacturing defects that are common during AFP/ATL, such as gaps, overlaps, twisted tows, missing tows, puckers, and foreign object defects and feed digital information into machine learning algorithms to take corrective actions on subsequent manufacturing runs to improve part quality. This also fits well into the Digital Factory of the Future concept and will aid in increasing production rates of commercial and defense aircraft. 

“In the current environment, there are increasing pressures facing the aerospace and defense industries to innovate with flat budgets, record-setting production rates, increasingly complex programs and an evolving workforce,” said WSU vice president for research and technology transfer John Tomblin. “Investments in emerging advanced manufacturing technologies are critical to maintain economic growth in our region. We want to thank the EDA for acknowledging the importance of the advanced manufacturing sector in South Central Kansas with this investment.”

NIAR senior research scientist Waruna Seneviratne will lead the lab.

“ATLAS provides a neutral ground for manufacturers to research advanced manufacturing concepts with various machine, software and processing options,” said Seneviratne. “It will also educate and train student Factory of the Future engineers on advanced manufacturing concepts.”

ATLAS will be located at NIAR headquarters building on the campus of Wichita State. The first floor will house manufacturing development facilities with computer-aided simulations and analysis on the third floor.

ATLAS already has several strategic partnerships with government agencies, aircraft manufacturers, equipment suppliers, material suppliers and other universities. In addition to support from the EDA, ATLAS has received significant funding from the Office of Naval Research and State of Kansas for acquiring advanced AFP equipment, inspection systems and test systems.

About NIAR
The National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University provides research, testing, certification and training for aviation and manufacturing technologies.  Established in 1985, NIAR has a $70 million annual budget; a staff of 550; and 600,000 square feet of laboratory and office space in four locations across the city of Wichita, the Air Capital of the World.

The mission of Wichita State University is to be an essential educational, cultural and economic driver for Kansas and the greater public good. Wichita State is a doctoral research university enrolling nearly 15,000 students and offering 59 undergraduate degree programs in more than 150 areas of study in seven undergraduate colleges. The Graduate School offers 45 master's and 12 doctoral degrees that offer study in more than 100 areas. Wichita State's Innovation Campus is an interconnected community of partnership buildings, laboratories and mixed-use areas where students, faculty, staff, entrepreneurs and businesses have access to the university's vast resources and technology. For more information, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/wichitastate and Facebook at www.facebook.com/wichita.state.