New Metal Bonding Machine Ensures Airline Safety

The Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Kansas State University has developed a metal bonding machine for Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita.

The device increases structural metal bond capacity and reduces vacuum bagging requirements. It also significantly decreases costs and cuts the bonding cycle time in half for this class of assemblies, according to the Advanced Manufacturing Institute's Rick Windholz, project manager for the new machine.

Before the development of this machine, workers had to vacuum bag each set of parts and use a vacuum to remove air, a tedious and time-consuming process, Windholz said. Once the parts were bagged, they had to be run through the autoclave to complete the curing process. The machine designed, built and tested by the Advanced Manufacturing Institute automatically controls the bond process, allowing for multiple parts to be bonded simultaneously without the need for individual bagging or an autoclave, he said.

The institute's metal bonding machine adhesively bonds flat aluminum parts together using a combination of computer controlled heat and pressure in a controlled environment. The heat, in conjunction with pressure, allows the adhesive film to flow and cure, resulting in a structurally bonded assembly, according to Windholz.

The design features a clamshell press that is capable of processing a variety of flat part shapes and thicknesses up to one-tenth of an inch, supporting Cessna's flexible manufacturing requirements. To maximize efficiency, it has removable metal sheets to allow parts to be pre-staged for loading while another set of parts is being cured, Windholz said.

Beyond efficiency and flexibility, durability and maintainability were key factors considered while designing and fabricating the metal bonding machine, Windholz said. To ensure safety, the machine's frame was designed with a safety factor of four so it can endure quadruple the stress it is likely to be exposed to. The machine was also designed to withstand 102,000 pounds of force on the frame.

"This machine will help Cessna achieve the company's goal to reduce bottlenecks in the metal bond manufacturing process," Windholz said.

"The final product has been very successful and Cessna expects the machine to pay for itself in less than two years, said Brad Kramer, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Institute.

"We are delighted with the metal bonding machine and the efficiency it will provide Cessna," said Ron Weddle, director of manufacturing research and development at Cessna. "This project was a real team effort, allowing Cessna engineers and the Advanced Manufacturing Institute team to work together in a multiphased collaborative environment. We value our partnership with the Advanced Manufacturing Institute and are actively working with them on additional projects."

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