A consortium of two SMEs, EireComposites and Plasma Bound, along with Technological University Dublin, has secured €2.5 million in funding under Call 5 of the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF), for a project focused on developing novel light-weighting technology for the aerospace industry.

Increased fuel efficiency

Lightweight composite materials are currently under-utilised in the aerospace industry, their superior strength-to-weight ratio versus metal alloys allows reduced weight and increased fuel efficiency but rapid, cost-effective bonding of these materials is challenging.

Effective surface preparation is a key prerequisite for achieving a strong, durable bond but current surface preparation techniques are highly labour-intensive, drastically increasing process costs.

L-R: Plasma Bound co-founders Alan Barry, Dr James Nicholas Barry and Xavier Montibert. Image: Nick Bradshaw, Fotonic.

Plasma Bound, a University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out company headquartered at NovaUCD, has developed a patented, novel surface treatment, called Controlled Polymer Ablation (CPA), which is applied prior to bonding of lightweight composite materials.

This automated and highly repeatable process, previously prototyped successfully by ÉireComposites, based in Co Galway, selectively removes the top layer of polymer via plasma ablation with minimal thermal input and without damaging the fibre reinforcement of the composite material.

CREST (Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology) at TU Dublin, the third partner of the consortium brings its strong material testing and surface characterisation capabilities to the project.

Improved repeatability, reliability and sustainability

These skills will be utilised to show that the CPA process results in significantly higher forces prior to failure. CREST will benchmark the CPA technology against traditionally prepared surfaces and demonstrate the improved repeatability, reliability and sustainability.

Plasma Bound was co-founded by Dr James Nicholas Barry, Alan Barry and Xavier Montibert as a spin-out from the UCD College of Engineering and Architecture.

Alan Barry, CEO and co-founder, Plasma Bound said: “The development of this plasma ablation process by this DTIF project consortium will remove a significant barrier and allow much greater adoption of lightweight materials in multiple areas of the manufacturing process for the aerospace industry and will generate further economic growth in all regions of Ireland and create high-quality jobs for skilled people who live and work in rural Ireland.”

The purpose of the DTIF, which is managed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with administrative support from Enterprise Ireland, is to drive collaboration between Ireland’s world-class research base and industry as well as facilitating enterprises to compete directly for funding in support of the development and adoption of these technologies.