TEAMS studies improvements to belly fairing designs using composites

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Oct 1, 2010

The company is carrying out an RDI project financed by CTA to improve the belly fairing design of commercial airliners to reduce weight, enhance cost savings and enable larger payloads.

The technological company TEAMS is carrying out an RDI project financed by the Technological Corporation of Andalusia (CTA) to study the viability of improving the structure of the belly fairing for commercial airliners by substituting metal components with composites (carbon fibre). This will result in weight reductions and cost savings and will also enable the same company manufacturing the carbon fibre panels to make the support structure as well. The belly fairing is a mixed metal/composite structure located between the wings on the underside of the fuselage, from which it derives its name. It contains brackets and supports for a large number of systems.

The execution of this project will help to enable future jobs for the belly fairing of commercial aircraft to be wholly assumed in Andalusia, assuring a steady flow of work packages and employment as well as technological advances. Given the strategic importance of the aerospace sector for Andalusia, actions such as these aimed at securing future contracts for products already being developed constitute an essential contribution to the local industry, in light of the fierce competition from emerging economies with lower labour costs such as south-east Asia. The support structure of the belly fairings for commercial aircraft currently consists of a series of stringers made of aluminium alloy. It consists of two parts, one with a T-shaped section (to which the sandwich panels are attached) and another larger U-shaped section which is riveted to the centre of the former. The complete structure is then attached to the fuselage.

TEAMS is working in two areas to analyse the viability of adopting a carbon fibre support structure:

Studies of the behaviour of the joint between the panels and the stringers of the support structure: Given that the ribs of the new frame are made of carbon fibre, studies are being carried out of the thickness required for its behaviour to be similar to that of metallic structures.

Studies of the type of stringer: numerical modelling is being carried out of the behaviour of the stringer to determine the optimum section thickness capable of withstanding bending and torsional loads.

The intended result is to develop a carbon fibre stringer which weighs less than those currently used but with similar properties.

The belly fairing of commercial airliners currently consists of a supporting structure attached to the fuselage to which carbon fibre sandwich panels are connected. Although the belly fairing is not a primary structure, it is subject to aerodynamic loads which the panels transmit to the supporting structure. Andalusia has considerable experience with these types of structures, given that the former company Sacesa (the basis for the aeronautical consortium Alestis) manufactured the panels of the belly fairing for the Airbus A380.

The Elasticity and Resistance of Materials Research Group of the University of Seville, which also collaborates on the TEAMS project, was actively involved in the characterisation tests and experimental studies of the structural behaviour of these panels. The experience acquired and the problems detected will be used by TEAMS to improve the design of these types of structures for future developments such as the A350.

The results of the project “may have important repercussions in the aeronautical industry, especially for Andalusian companies due to the type of structure analysed,” said the CEO of TEAMS, Esther García, who explained that the knowledge obtained will place Andalusian companies in a privileged position to assume belly fairing projects for future aircraft (A350) and modifications to current designs.

There are no other Spanish companies currently working on new developments for belly fairing structures. Accordingly, the results of this project will also be of major interest to Airbus with a view to their incorporation in its design recommendations. TEAMS is an innovative company with the capacity to generate new applied knowledge and resolve the R+D issues of the industry’s leading manufacturers.

TEAMS, added value with university pedigree

There are currently only four Spanish companies and technology centres with the capacity to carry out tests of large components for the aerospace industry. TEAMS (Testing and Engineering of Aeronautical Materials and Structures) is one of these and is also the only one which is 100% privately owned. TEAMS provides technical support for the aeronautical industry in the field of materials, including mechanical, physical-chemical and structural testing and checks and calibration of instruments used in industrial processes.

The company started out as a spin-off of the Industrial Engineering School of the University of Seville, a perfect example of knowledge transfer from Universities to businesses. As a consequence, it is well positioned to offer knowledge-based added value to products, one of the major challenges for Andalusian auxiliary companies in order to compete with emerging economies which have cheaper labour costs. Its main customers include Airbus, Airbus Military, Aernnova, Alestis, EADS Space and Eurocopter.

Its close collaboration with the Elasticity and Resistance of Materials Research Group ensures access to the results of major public research projects.