The use of a basic principle from the 18th century that may be used in the building of 21st century aircraft was demonstrated here today by Boeing working under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The Advanced Stitching Machine is a major improvement on the sewing machine first conceived in the 1790s. The machine is being used to stitch layers of carbon fiber fabric together to form what could eventually be used as the wing skin on an aircraft within the next decade.
The use of this type of composite material in airliners and other large transports could reduce the weight of the aircraft and lower the cost of operations. The goals of NASA’s Advanced Composite Technology program are to lower the weight of aircraft wing structures by 25 percent over conventional aluminum construction, along with lowering the production cost by 20 percent compared with traditional aluminum structure. The research is being funded and supervised by NASA Langley Research Center.
The Advanced Stitching Machine demonstrated today has the capability of stitching material up to 50 feet long and 9.5 feet wide. The machine can stitch up to 20 thicknesses of carbon fabric, measuring more than an inch thick. The panels being stitched on the machine will eventually be used as test articles in a full-scale ground test of a composite wing for an airliner.
Because conventional textile stitching machines are not suitable for the composite material stitching, Boeing and NASA turned to a machine tool maker, Ingersoll Milling Machine Company, which worked with Pathe Technologies, Inc. to produce the advanced stitching machine. The machine was built at Rockford, Ill., and tested there before being moved to the Huntington Beach facility. The machine is 92 feet long, stands 17 feet above the floor, and is built over a pit that is 21 feet deep to allow for the movement of the table sections and the supporting equipment.
The project is part of a $130 million contract on Advanced Composite Technology with NASA that is expected to be completed in 2001.