This video outlines the NCDMM's work.

NCDMM, headquartered in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, was recently awarded the project to oversee the development of a system to automate an inspection method to detect defects in composite aircraft components produced by automated fibre placement (AFP).

Automated inspection of composite structures laid up using AFP has the potential to be a game changer for the industry. Manual inspection is extremely time consuming, laborious, and visually tedious as defects are difficult to discern. The development of an automated inspection system would result in significant production gains and reduce production costs.
Jim Fisher, NCDMM Director of Operations

Fibre placement is a composite fabrication method that is widely used for both military and commercial aerospace programmes. During AFP, groups of tows of composite material are deposited onto a tool by an AFP machine to form a composite structure. (See Automating aerospace composites production with fibre placement.)

While AFP machines are designed and programmed for proper placement of the tows during fabrication, potential problems inherent to composite production can occur, requiring the fibres to be thoroughly inspected against a stringent set of criteria. Under current inspection practices, production must be interrupted after each ply.

With an automated system, inspections would occur in real-time while the composite structure is being fabricated, alerting the operator and allowing defects and anomalies to be detected and repaired during the fabrication process.

NCDMM extended invitations to a select group of existing suppliers to participate in a competitive process to partner with NCDMM in this work. Ingersoll Machine Tools, a supplier of AFP machines and other composites processing equipment based in Rockford, Illinois, was selected.

“In reviewing the submitted proposals, Ingersoll Machine Tools detailed the most suitable approach and they possess the required resources, the management expertise, and an enormous amount of AFP experience to achieve all the project requirements,” says Ralph Resnick, NCDMM President and Executive Director.

The fully developed and tested automated inspection system is expected to be completed in the next 10 months. It will include an electronic database system to electronically document and track defects.