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Safran group invests in Montréal - Polytechnique becomes one of the first universities in the world to inaugurate a large-scale 3D composite laboratory for the aerospace industry

December 12, 2013 - Source : NEWS
Today, Polytechnique Montréal, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Safran are inaugurating the NSERC-Safran Industrial Research Chair on Novel 3D Composite Materials for the Aerospace Industry.

With the creation of this chair, which will benefit from investments totalling more than $2.4 million, Polytechnique Montréal will become one of the first universities in the world to build a large-scale 3D composite laboratory for the aerospace industry. It should be noted that the chair also benefits from the research infrastructure provided over the last few years by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of Québec and other partners. This state-of-the-art equipment represents a total investment of $5.4 million.

“Canada's aerospace and space industries contribute over 170,000 jobs and more than $27 billion annually to the Canadian economy,” said the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Industry. “This industrial research chair will help develop innovative solutions for the aerospace industry, while providing assistance for training highly qualified personnel. Our government supports Canadian businesses so they can continue to compete internationally and be global leaders.”

Composites: “star” materials for the aerospace industry
Composite materials now occupy a key place in the aerospace industry. Their use has spread to aircraft structures, whether for the fuselage— as in that of the Boeing 787—or for the wings, such as those of the Airbus A350 or the Bombardier CSeries.

Today, the need to manufacture even lighter aircraft that are more reliable and more corrosion-resistant has led the industry to become interested in the use of composite materials for engine parts. This is true, among others, for Safran and GE, which are using new three-dimensional composites to create their next turboreactor, the LEAP-X. Thanks to the intensive use of composites, this engine will offer a decisive advantage in terms of mass, performance and fuel consumption: a 15% fuel savings compared to its predecessor, a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 450-kg gain in mass on the fan blades, and a 15-dB reduction in engine sound level. The new motor in development has already attracted the attention of major airlines, which have confirmed it as their choice for the re-engining of the Airbus A320-Neo and the Boeing 737 Max, and for the new Chinese transport aircraft COMAC 919, all three planned for 2016.

From left to right: Ludovic Molliex, Vice-President, Materials and Processes, Safran, Pamela Moss, Director, Research Partnerships Programs, NSERC, Edu Ruiz, professor and holder of the NSERC-Safran Industrial Research Chair on Novel 3D Composite Materials for the Aerospace Industry, Christophe Guy, CEO, Polytechnique, Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, chairman of the board, Polytechnique.

A chair to address the technical challenges of 3D composites
The use of innovative 3D materials in the aerospace industry nevertheless poses significant challenges, because these materials must be resistant to impact, fatigue and, in some cases, temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees Celsius. Not to mention the requirement to certify rotating parts to zero defects! 

To meet these challenges, the NSERC-Safran Industrial Research Chair on Novel 3D Composite Materials for the Aerospace Industry, held by Professor Edu Ruiz, is undertaking research work at Polytechnique. “We will cover the full development of new solutions destined for the aerospace industry: we will work on both the creation of 3D composite nanomaterials and the development of new manufacturing processes for large structures,” Professor Ruiz says. “We will then use these innovations to build industrial-scale prototypes. This approach is fairly unique in our field of research. As well, our partnership with the Safran group, a world leader in aerospace, will enable us to develop scientific solutions that address the concerns and challenges of the high-end products industry.”

A unique research infrastructure
The chair has exceptional equipment, both in the characterization laboratory for nano-composites and polymers and in the manufacturing laboratory. In the first, the members of Professor Ruiz's team study the behaviour of polymers and nanoparticles and develop new multifunctional materials, resulting from the combination of three-dimensional composites and some nanoparticles. In the second, other team members perfect manufacturing methods for aerospace engine parts and manufacture industrial-scale prototypes.

A promising collaboration
Thanks to the expertise, scientific innovations and unique technologies developed by Professors Ruiz and François Trochu over the past 20 years, Polytechnique Montréal has become an internationally recognized research hub in the field of composite materials.

Polyflex, a flexible-injection process patented by Polytechnique that makes it possible to manufacture high-performance composite parts in a lower-cost, reliable and automated way, attracted Safran's attention a few years ago. 

“Snecma and Polytechnique began their work together in 1992, but since 2006, Polytechnique Montréal has been working closely with Safran to study the implementation of structural parts for new aeronautics engines,” says Ludovic Molliex, Vice-President, Materials and Processes, for Safran. “Our collaboration with Polytechnique intensified in 2010 when we announced a $6-million investment over 10 years to accelerate research with a view to mastering new manufacturing processes for structural composites reinforced by three-dimensional carbon fibre fabrics. The Polyflex process offers a very attractive alternative to existing processes such as RTM or resin infusion, among others for large-scale parts. The application projects we have undertaken with researchers at Polytechnique Montréal are yielding very promising results.”

For her part, Janet Walden, Chief Operating Officer of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada, notes: “NSERC's Industrial Research Chairholders, such as Dr. Ruiz, share a unique blend of qualities – they strive for excellence in research, provide a rich learning environment for their students, and are able to build and nurture productive, successful relationships with their industrial partners, applying fundamental research to address industry R&D needs. Dr. Ruiz's work with Safran will position Canada as a global leader in composite materials research, helping the aerospace industry make planes lighter.”

An incubator for young scientists
Because of its broad scope of activities and expertise, as well as its collaborations with major industry players, the NSERC-Safran Industrial Research Chair on Novel 3D Composite Materials for the Aerospace Industry makes for a unique training environment. Some 50 students will actively take part in the Chair's research work, and will be trained to use avant-garde technologies in the realm of manufacturing and composite characterization.

“This partnership with Safran will help us train the best recruits in the world,” says Christophe Guy, Chief Executive Officer of Polytechnique Montréal. “The training of highly qualified staff specializing in manufacturing composites is a critical issue not only for the aeronautics industry, but also for many other sectors, such as ground transport, renewable energy and civil engineering infrastructures. This is an invaluable asset for Canadian industry.”

About Safran
Safran is an international high-technology group, and a first-rank equipment manufacturer in the fields of aerospace (propulsion, equipment), defence and security. Present on every continent, the group employs 65,000 people for an annual sales figure of over €13.5 billion in 2012. Composed of numerous companies, the Safran group, alone or in partnership, holds leading positions in its markets in Europe and the world. To respond to market evolution, the group is committed to research and development programs representing €1.1 billion in 2012. Safran holds several units and plants in Québec, including Turbomeca, Messier-Dowty and Sagem-Morpho.

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