The Future of Composite Tooling & Its Benefits

One of the NASA programs’ biggest problems is protecting its satellites against space debris traveling at around 17,500 mph. Momentum dictates that even a plastic bit weighing 25 grams would exert a force of 1955.8 Newton. For reference, you need a force of 80 newtons to pick up a 160-pound person.

Here is what a 15g piece of plastic in hypervelocity did to an aluminum block in space.

NASA has been trying to solve this issue for a while now, and advanced composites have presented the solution. Using high-tech composite materials in aerospace design, scientists need to create a material that will automatically repair its structure.

The main technique used in creating this material is composite tooling, hence ushering in a new era of composite aerospace manufacturing. Initially, this material would take a while to develop. Cost-efficiency can be achieved once it becomes mainstream use in the aerospace industry, making space and air travel much more reliable.

The Self-Healing Advanced Composite for The Aerospace Industry

Aurora Flight Sciences’ R&D program developed the technology in an attempt to create a multifunctional composite structure. By merging FDM (Fused Deposit Modelling) with an automated fiber placement (AFP), they have created a technology that can self-heal microcracks in the material’s surface without the need for extra material.

For now, this technology is limited to minor cracks. However, further studies will allow us to create material that will eventually heal more significant cracks.

Even with these microcracks repaired, the technology is primed to prolong the life of large composite materials in aerospace design.


How This “Self-Heal” Technology Works

The idea is to heal micro-cracks in the material, especially for vessels with humans in them. This technology is necessary for deep space adventures. The healing process involves small, continuous thermoplastic (PLA) sacrificial filaments 300 to 400 microns in diameter. These filaments are printed directly into the cracked composite material.

As of right now, the tests have used carbon fiber as the base material.

The resin in the composite gel takes a while to cure at room temperature but will be near-instant at 273 degrees. On the other hand, higher temperatures get depolymerized and leave empty hollow channels initially embedded in the composite. The fluids from this depolymerized material seep into the crack, mixing with the composite material and, therefore, filling and sealing the cracks. Eventually, the temperature drops and the mix starts to cure and harden.


A 3D-printed honeycomb is used to store the healing agent.


Aurora Flight Sciences is an example of how composite tooling can benefit individuals and the world as a whole for the foreseeable future. PAC is also taking such steps and using our technology to further client goals.


If you want to make the most out of composite tools, we recommend giving us a quick call. We’ll help you innovate and scale newer heights with your aerospace program, be it for in-atmosphere flight or space-flight needs.