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USC will work to increase aircraft production through NASA grant

Staff Report //September 1, 2020//

USC will work to increase aircraft production through NASA grant

Staff Report //September 1, 2020//

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The University of South Carolina will use a $5.7 million NASA research grant to help speed aircraft manufacturing and production.

A team from the university’s College of Engineering and Computing will work in partnership with Benedict College, Boise State University, the University of Southern Mississippi and industry partners to ramp up the country’s aircraft production rate. Paul Ziehl is USC’s principal investigator for the project, funded by a four-year NASA University Leadership Initiative grant.

Increased aircraft production rates will aid urban air mobility, or services ranging from drone delivery to air taxis, according to a news release from USC. Expected to be a commercially viable market by 2030, urban air mobility will require aircraft to be built in higher quantities and at a faster rate, researchers said.

Michel van Tooren, the initiator of the NASA proposal and the former director of USC’s SmartState Center for Multifunctional Materials and Structures, predicted that urban air transport will ultimately require 100 aircraft to be produced a day, as opposed to the 60 to 70 currently produced a month by top carriers.

“How do you do that?” van Tooren said in the release. “And if you do 100 aircraft a day and it’s maybe 30 blades on an aircraft, then that’s 3,000 blades a day. There’s no technology available at the moment that creates such an enormous number of aircraft-quality products, and that’s the big challenge.”

Boise State and Southern Mississippi will begin the research using experimental and simulation techniques to make the thermoplastic tape used to build aircraft stronger and more durable. South Carolina’s team will then use advanced manufacturing processes such as automated fiber placement and automated tape layup to build aircraft parts at a higher production rate and use thermoplastic welding to fusion-bond the parts.

“It’s a new level of simulation and it’s a new way of manufacturing,” van Tooren said. “Through it, we can transform aerospace manufacturing and open the door to large-scale urban air mobility sooner than we ever imagined.”

 The University Leadership Initiative was created by the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

“In an impressively short period, the USC McNair Aerospace Center has become a household name in the aerospace composites world, especially in the area of thermoplastics and fastener-free joining, as well as robotics, digital commissioning, combustion and predictive maintenance,” said Hossein Haj-Hariri, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing. “Receiving one of the coveted NASA ULIs is testimony to the excellence of the center, which continues to pursue and receive similarly competitive and prestigious funding in all its areas, and educates, trains and produces graduates that are at the forefront of their respective disciplines and highly sought as a result.”