Advanced Materials and Composites

South Central Kansas hosts a rapidly developing industrial cluster of firms in the field of advanced or “engineered” materials (composites) and polymers (advanced plastics and elastomers.) The region is a center of excellence in the field of advanced materials research, development and production. Wichita is already home to the world’s leading aviation manufacturing cluster. Wichita’s involvement with composite aircraft component design and fabrication goes back over 25 years to development of the all-composite Beechcraft Starship and Raytheon Premier business jets, Boeing-Wichita’s development of composite nacelles and struts, and Cessna’s development of proprietary composite technology.

Wichita’s expertise in advanced materials also has wide application outside of the aerospace industry. Advanced materials are being used in medical devices, automotive components, wind turbines, marine applications, construction materials, machinery, scientific instrumentation and consumer products.

National Institute for Aviation Research

NIAR at Wichita State University was founded in 1985, and is the largest aerospace research and development academic institution in the nation. NIAR accounts for over 70% of Federal Aviation Administration composite research spending. According to the most recent National Science Foundation data (FY 2011), WSU ranks third among all U.S. universities in aerospace engineering research and development funding. WSU-NIAR spent $42 million on such activity during FY 2011. NIAR’s 120,000 square foot facility houses 15 advanced research and testing laboratories – including a composites and advanced materials lab. NIAR also has labs concentrating on rapid 3-D prototyping and composites aging. NIAR has a full-time staff of nearly 350 researchers, including 63 at the PhD level. It has been appointed by the FAA as lead institution of the Center of Excellence in Composites & Advanced Materials (CECAM), which has been designated by NASA and FAA to develop national standards for aircraft composites. NIAR’s National Center for Advanced Materials Performance (NCAMP) is developing economical methods of certifying composite materials by sharing central material qualification databases. NCAMP will provide the nation with centralized composite and advanced material validation and quality assurance.

This system will make composites as attractive to industry as current metallic materials. NCAMP has expanded its private supporter base to include 38 domestic and international companies. NIAR composite expertise puts Wichita at the forefront of developing practical advanced materials for not only aviation – but also automotive, medical, industrial and consumer products. NIAR has provided cost-effective proprietary research and development collaboration for over 180 private industry clients. In addition to NIAR's industry research, WSU School of Engineering offers specialized practical composites training.

National Center for Aviation Training

In order to assure a steady pipeline of qualified workers for the regional aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries, Sedgwick County Technical Education and Training Authority(SCTETA) developed the $50 million (230,000 square foot) National Center for Aviation Training at Jabara. NCAT is a world-class aviation and advanced general manufacturing training center on the grounds of Jabara Airport in northeast Wichita. NCAT has capacity to provide technical training for at least 1,500 students in both day and night classes. Wichita Area Technical College serves as managing partner and coordinates program offerings such as Composite Technology. NCAT training is employer-driven to flexibly adapt to industry needs.  Its facilities allow realistic hands-on training on the latest equipment in aviation and advanced manufacturing, including a composites materials lab and an autoclave for heat-curing composites.

NCAT also incorporates new facilities for Wichita State University's National Institute for Aviation Research. NIAR has NCAT facilities dedicated to composites research, CATIA training, non-destructive inspection and advanced joining technologies such as friction-stir welding. NIAR has been named a FAA Center of Excellence for Advanced Materials and a NASA National Center for Advanced Materials Performance. NCAT-NIAR partnership allows NIAR to develop and certify new advanced materials and techniques in the lab, and then rapidly train production workers to utilize the new technology. This combination of NIAR research expertise and high-tech training facilities expedites bringing new advanced materials technologies to the factory production floor.

NCAT has received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval. Groundbreaking occurred in March 2008, and classes at the site began in August 2010. All NCAT programs are now active. Between NCAT's aviation building and advanced manufacturing building, an entire business jet could be made from design to finish. NCAT is the centerpiece and headquarters of Wichita Area Technical College. WATC / NCAT is leading a consortium of community colleges in developing industry-standard aviation manufacturing training curricula.

Regional Composites Cluster

The Wichita region has an expanding group of companies utilizing advanced materials. In addition to aerospace applications – products include military and consumer items, such as infantry armor and bicycle frames. Following are some Wichita area companies involved in design and fabrication of composites and other advanced materials:

Spirit AeroSystems (10,900 employees) Produces some of the world’s most complex composite components – such as the forward fuselage section of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which necessitated investment in one of the world’s largest autoclaves. Spirit’s composite workload is expected to increase dramatically as Boeing develops and produces a replacement for the 737. Spirit is rapidly diversifying its customer base.

Cessna Aircraft Company (nearly 6,000 employees1) - Citation business jets and single engine airplanes. Developed proprietary composite technology at Wichita Pawnee Plant.

Beechcraft Corporation (5,400 employees2) Pioneered composite aircraft in the 1980s with the Beechcraft Starship. Currently produces two composite aircraft – Premier 1 and Hawker 4000 Horizon business jets both have their entire fuselage made of composites. 

Bombardier Learjet (2,855 employees) Business jet manufacturer. Accesses composite technology via Short Brothers in northern Ireland.

Airbus America Engineering (400 employees) Airbus has an engineering design center in Wichita. Airbus is rapidly increasing utilization of composites in their new aircraft models.

Aeroflex (365) Avionics test equipment.

Metal Finishing Co. (327 employees) Aerospace heat treatment, NDT, finishing, plating and painting.

LTC - Leading Technology Composites (321 employees) Structural graphite parts and assemblies. ECS and bleed air ducting and interior components.

TECT Aerospace (277 employees) Complex structural and mechanical details and sub assemblies for aerospace and defense companies, high-speed and palletized machining for both hard metals and aluminium parts, hypervelocity machining, cellular manufacturing and multi-axis turning, complex mechanical and structural assemblies.

Cox Machine (240 employees) Machine and fabricated structural parts and assemblies.

3P Processing (210 employees) Aircraft and industrial painting, anodizing, passivation, hard-anodize, titanium processing, chem-film, non-destructive testing, shot peening, blast, prime, topcoat and part marking.

Globe Engineering Co. (205 employees) Sheet metal component and assemblies.

Triumph Structures - Wichita (177 employees) Aerospace composite components.

Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics (153 employees) Aircraft instruments, avionics and advanced power solutions.

Harlow Aerostructures LLC (150 employees) High-speed aerospace bulkheads, stringers, spars, design, testing, production military and general aviation engine throttles.

JR Custom Metal Products (150 employees) Material handling equipment and tooling.

Senior Aerospace Composites (150 employees) Aerospace composite parts and assemblies for air handling, structural and interior applications.

1 Source: www.cesssna.txtav.com

2. Source: www.beechcraft.com, Cessna Aircraft Co. merged with Beechcraft Corp. in March 2014 to form Textron Aviation.