New aircraft are increasingly made of composite. But the aviation maintenance market was actually not yet prepared for this. The DCMC is changing that.
It’s visible in many sectors of the high-tech manufacturing industry: in the design process, all the attention goes to the optimal end product, but a lot less to its future maintenance. And that’s exactly what can make the difference between quality for the moment and long-term reliability. This also applies to the aircraft industry, where composite materials are rapidly taking over from metal as a building material. These are great steps, but how do you organize the maintenance? Who checks the long-term reliability, who takes care of the small and large repairs? Precisely for that purpose, the Development Centre for Maintenance of Composites (DCMC) at Business Park Aviolanda in Woensdrecht has started. This field lab, where new methods and techniques for composite maintenance and repair are developed, officially opened its doors on 29 April.
New aircraft are increasingly made of composite. But the aviation maintenance market was actually not yet prepared for this. Damage to composite is often invisible from the outside, even though something could be broken in the fibers in the material. Maintenance of composite is also very different from that of metal for this reason. Both engineering education and MRO companies still have insufficient knowledge of it. The DCMC is working on solving these problems. The focus, for now, is on the aircraft industry, but cross-sector collaboration is also high on the agenda. After all, anyone who can repair a helicopter rotor also knows how to deal with a blade from an offshore wind turbine, for example. Innovation Origins talks about the opportunities for this specific branch within smart maintenance with Martin Knegt, Managing Director of DCMC, and Marco Brinkman, Managing Director of SPECTO Services and Chairman of the Board of DCMC.
The impetus for the creation of DCMC was in the emergence of composites as a replacement for aluminum, around 2013. “From an occasional addition in composite, that all developed quickly to a structural place for composite in the whole process of aircraft building,” says Knegt. “Think of complete fuselages and wings for the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787. The same is true for the F35, which incorporates many Dutch materials and techniques, and the NH90 helicopter.”
No matter how good the quality of the aircraft is, after delivery maintenance and repair are also involved. “Traditional structural repair manuals are available for all that work, but they need to be updated a bit more. What’s important here is to get instructions that lead to certifiable repairs. Our partners realized this at a certain point, but at the same time they established that this is not something for one single party. It is precisely by bringing together various parties, each with their own expertise, that you can make progress. That’s why we brought the wishes together with NLR, Fokker, SPECTO, TU Delft, and the Ministry of Defense; by bringing all that expertise together in concrete projects, one can make progress.”
DCMC now has six projects , ranging from scanning techniques to performing non-destructive testing on the composite material, to automating repair via robotization, and applying innovation to composite wind turbine blades. The seventh project is the development of the site itself, with the first visible step being the official opening on April 29. “For our visibility, the demonstrator that we will soon be able to show at Aviolanda is very important,” says board chairman Marco Brinkman. “You can make videos of anything, and we do, but especially since it is a new area for many parties, you want to see something like this with your own eyes. Very specifically: this is a panel, this is damage, and with these steps we solve it.”
To better make the jump to other sectors, DCMC has now also joined World Class Maintenance, a network for smart maintenance. “In a lot of areas we are already working,” says Knegt. “But ultimately our ambition is to completely work cross-sectorally, also internationally. We want to become the center of expertise the world can count on.”
Read the entire story here: Innovation Origins