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JEC Composites Exhibition: Carbon fibre prepreg content on each A350 XWB is worth over $4 million to Hexcel

Hexcel Composites : 26 March, 2013  (Special Report)
At the 2013 JEC Composites show in Paris, Hexcel provided details of its work on the Airbus A350 XWB, which represents the largest contract in the company’s history, with overall revenues of between $4-5 billion. Hexcel’s total content on each A350 XWB is now claimed to be worth over $4 million. When Hexcel was awarded the contract in 2008 to supply carbon fiber prepreg for all the A350 XWB composite primary structures, it secured the contract by developing a complete composite proposal, including carbon fibre prepreg and associated products.

The company’s experience in intermediate modulus carbon fibres was exploited to design HexTow IMA to Airbus requirements and HexPly M21E prepreg resin matrix developed to ensure that the very high performance properties in the fibre are fully optimised in the cured prepreg laminates. One composite structure built using HexPly M21E/IMA is the rear fuselage.


To meet the increasing demand for HexTow carbon fibre, new lines have been added at the company’s PAN precursor facility in Decatur, Alabama new carbon lines commissioned in Salt Lake City, Utah and a first European carbon fibre manufacturing plant established in Illescas, Spain. To produce the vast quantities of prepreg required for the A350 XWB Hexcel introduced a new model for the cost-effective large scale production of prepreg, producing resin film in a continuous process to very tight aerial weight tolerances in Duxford, UK which has improved the quality, accuracy and consistency of the resin film. Hexcel is also expanding its prepreg matrix capacities at its Salt Lake City, Utah facility.

With the resin film manufactured in THE UK, the UD prepreg is converted at Hexcel facilities in France, Spain, Germany and the USA, whence it is supplied to nearby Airbus facilities and Tier 1s throughout Europe and the USA. This has resulted in a highly effective supply chain model for prepreg production, resulting in shorter lead times, greater responsiveness, reduced transportation of materials, point of use delivery, less packaging, reduced inventory and less requirement for cold storage space.


The A350 XWB composite structures built by Airbus and the Tier 1s using HexPly M21E/IMA include entire fuselage panels, keel beam, the entire wing (covers, spars and centre wing-box) and empennage. The A350 XWB Lower Wing Covers are the biggest single civil aviation parts ever made from carbon fibre, measuring 32m long by 6m wide.



The A350 XWB is the first Airbus with a structure that is more than 50% composites and Hexcel’s content is over $4 million per aircraft. Airbus loaned Hexcel an A350 XWB Stringer Run Out Demonstrator panel to display at JEC – a part with skins and stringers both built in HexPly M21E/IMA slit tape and UD tape.

HiTape Advanced Reinforcements for Out of Autoclave (OOA) Processed Aircraft Primary Structures combines automated processing and cost-effective infusion technologies with the high performance achieved with primary structure prepregs. The UD tape, based on HexTow carbon fibre, allows dry preforms to be manufactured in a fully automated lay-up process with deposition rates as high as 50kg/h – without any material splicing or removal of polythene film.

Parts produced with HiTape reinforcements and HexFlow infusion resins can be up to 30mm thick with a 58 to 60% fibre volume content. The mechanical properties are therefore as high as those found in parts made with the latest generation primary structure prepregs.

Customer evaluations report significant cost-savings are achievable with HiTape and the associated vacuum infusion process. HiTape has been used to great effect by Aerocomposit for wing prototype components. Spirit AeroSystems has also successfully used HiTape to form the skin of an engine nacelle outer fan cowl – a part displayed on Hexcel’s stand at JEC. Video footage from Coriolis and M Torres demonstrated the speed and efficiency of the HiTape preform lay-up process.

Engine fan blades with HexPly M91 prepreg

HexPly M91 is a new epoxy prepreg developed by Hexcel for airframe primary structures and aircraft engines. The material is being used by CTAL – a Rolls-Royce/GKN Aerospace joint venture – to manufacture DOVE demonstrator fan blades for new generation lightweight turbofan engines. Hexcel supplies HexPly M91 as slit tape which CTAL uses to lay-up the blade in an automated process that produces a complex aerodynamic shape, with a constantly changing thickness across the blade length. The result is as thin as a titanium fan blade - and lighter.

HexPly M91 provides very high toughness and high residual compression after impact (CAI). It gives improved tensile performance in combination with both Intermediate Modulus (IM) and High Strength (AS) carbon fibres. Good hot-wet properties up to 120C (250F) are also obtained.  Good tack life and out-life provide flexibility during processing on the shop floor and low exothermic behaviour allow for simple cure cycles of thick monolithic structures.

PrimeTex carbon fibre reinforcements

PrimeTex is Hexcel’s patented technology with fibres spread in both the warp and weft direction to provide a uniform weave and gap-free finish. The PrimeTex spreading process increases the closure factor by 5 to 8%, compared to conventional weaving processes (depending on the carbon tow and FAW).

PrimeTex carbon fibre reinforcements are ideal for aerospace laminates, as the gap-free structure reduces porosity and requires less part finishing. Low weight PrimeTex can lower the mass in a composite structure, resulting in even greater weight savings than with standard composite reinforcements. PrimeTex gives excellent water tightness when used in honeycomb sandwich structures such as aircraft belly fairings or helicopter structures.

On Board the A350 XWB (left ro right): Fuselage frame from Duqueine Group; A350 XWB wing spar prototype manufactured by GKN using HexPly Prepreg; A350 XWB upper wing cover by Airbus Germany; First composite lower wing shells manufactured at Illescas by Spain Airbus





HexTool machinable composite tooling

Following an extensive 22 month evaluation of composite tool technologies, CFAN has selected Hexcel’s HexTool machinable composite tooling to manufacture its composite fan blades for the GE90 and GEnx engines. CFAN studied various tooling materials during its development of composite tooling to support extensive production requirements. Hexcel understood the requirements and proposed HexTool M61 quasi-isotropic tooling material.

“Over multiple cure cycles HexTool materials demonstrated high levels of tool dimensional stability, excellent vacuum integrity and tool durability, using standard CFAN operational practices,” says Tom Lednicky Sr, Manufacturing Engineer with CFAN. "The capabilities and benefits of HexTool include the ability to meet strict requirements for stability and repeatability of tolerances previously accomplished by machined Invar tools. Compared to metal tools, there is improved thermal performance and reduced weight of carbon tools over metal tools."

CFAN has more than 80 HexTool tools presently in production use, with more planned and on order. They are used for the production of the GE90-94, GE90-115B, GEnx-1B and GEnx-2B fan blades.

Low temperature cure prepreg for wind turbine blades

New HexPly M79 prepreg from Hexcel is a potential game-changer in the wind blade industry - offering a real option for those who currently manufacture blades by infusion to move to prepreg technology and benefit from superior mechanical performance.

HexPly M79 has been developed to respond to the industry requirements for a lower temperature curing prepreg that cures more quickly than products currently on the market. A number of cure cycle options are possible with HexPly M79, including a very low temperature cure cycle of 8 to 10 hours at just 70C, or a more rapid cure cycle of just 4 to 6 hours at 80C. This is a significant time-saving on established industry prepregs where a typical cure cycle for an 80C curing resin matrix is 10 hours.

With HexPly M79, there is also a 60% reduction in the risk of an exothermic reaction, compared tostandard wind energy prepregs - yet the new system is based on standard epoxy chemistry that has more than 20 years of proven performance for wind blades. HexPly M79 also has a very long out life at room temperature of at least two months, which is unusual for such a low temperature curing product.

Due to the low cure temperature of HexPly M79 the system is compatible with any liquid epoxy resin used for infusion processing. This means that prepreg and infusion processes can be combined in the same blade, combining the twin advantages of stronger laminates and cost-effective processing.

The ultimate performance for wind blades is achieved when HexPly M79 is reinforced with carbon fibre to provide exceptionally strong laminates that are lighter than those made with glass fibre. This is an enabling technology for the increasingly larger wind blades that are being manufactured – now approaching 100m in length.

HexPly M77 and HexMC

A new development being promoted by Hexcel at JEC 2013 was the combination of HexMC patented technology with the rapid-curing HexPly M77 epoxy resin system. Hexcel has developed this high performance carbon fibre compound specifically for compression moulding processes that are compatible with large volume automated production, as used in the automotive industry. Hexcel is working with Plastic Omnium to optimise the technology and a demonstrator part using HexPly M77 and HexMC technology was on show.

Very light gap-free fabrics

As a further development of the PrimeTex proprietary spreading process technology, Hexcel is launching whatis claims to be the lightest 3K gap–free carbon fabric ever produced: PrimeTex Very Light Weight 98g/m<2>. This new range of 3K carbon fabrics breaks through the conventional limits for Fibre Areal Weight and opens the door to the cost-effective use of very light plies in composite lay-ups. PrimeTex Very Light Weight is also 12% thinner than conventional 1K carbon fabrics, which results in lighter structures making it the perfect candidate for surface plies, sandwich construction, structural parts or any other composite components requiring extreme lightness.

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