Safran Composites: a world-class research center takes shape

With the cornerstone being laid for the new Safran Composites research center, director Marc Gouny reviews the major challenges facing composite materials, and their steadily growing use in the aircraft industry.

When Safran Composites was created in 2011 you discussed Safran's composites policy; could you reiterate the main points?
The advantages of composite parts for aircraft, cars and other applications are now largely proven. With Safran Composites, the Group is creating a world-class center of expertise, fully dedicated to research, design and the development of production processes for the composite parts that will be used in the future by our companies. Safran has in fact been employing composite materials since 1980, especially in nacelles. Through this new research center, we are targeting the development and massive application of composites in all of our products, including certain critical parts in the new LEAP engine.

How has Safran Composites developed in the last year?
We have grown from 10 to 40 persons in less than two years, and we are now working on more than 30 different research subjects. In addition, we have invested in new state-of-the-art equipment for both parts development and lab research.

How would you describe the role of the Safran Composites research center?
It supports Safran's drive to become a world-class competitor in composite materials. The center's major objectives include increasing the Group's leadership in innovative and differentiating technologies, like 3D woven composites; developing new computation and simulation tools; and developing new basic components to extend the application of composites to more highly stressed aircraft parts, whether mechanically or thermally, such as compressors and landing gear. It will also be participating in new Research & Technology projects with Safran's Materials and Processes division, and a network of partners including universities, research labs, specialized small businesses, etc.

In concrete terms, what are the center's activities?
The center will federate all the skills and the research resources needed by composite technologies: chemistry, physics, design, computation, simulation, tooling, control systems and more. The center will deploy other indispensable machinery, such as a loom, 2,000-ton press, machining cell and autoclave. The manufacture of optimized products depends on a prototype maturing process, applied under the best possible industrial conditions.

What projects is Safran Composites working on at the moment?
We started operations in February 2011, and for the moment we're in temporary premises at Snecma's Villaroche plant. Our team is carrying out several R&T projects for Group companies: research and characterization of new resins and fibers, optimized curing methods, special surface treatments (anti-icing, conductivity, etc.). At the same time, our people are developing components for which they provide coordination and technical support, as well as the production of prototype parts, such as open rotor engine blades and LEAP engine parts (Snecma), a low-pressure compressor casing (Techspace Aero)… Other projects have gotten under way for brand-new composite parts, such as accessory supports for LEAP, transmission shafts for Hispano-Suiza and housings for Sagem.

See the video of the cornerstone laid for the new Safran research center dedicated to composite materials on September 7th, 2012.

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