Perth-based design company wins major aerospace contracts

Australian company Quickstep is enjoying success in the aerospace industry due to its innovative process for the manufacture of composites which harnesses Dassault Systèmes’ CATIA software.

In February, Perth-based Quickstep signed a Long Term Agreement (LTA) as an outcome of the MoU signed with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman in November 2009 to enable contracts to manufacture parts for the international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.

Contracts are expected to be worth up to $700 million and will be for the supply of composite doors and access panels for the F-35. Quickstep will initially start each group of parts as dual source and then become the sole source supplier of these parts.

In March, Quickstep secured a further opportunity for aerospace/defence manufacturing work in Australia by signing an MoU with global helicopter company, Sikorsky.

Quickstep has expertise in the production of aerospace-grade composite components using both the conventional autoclave-based method and its proprietary Quickstep Process.

The company’s managing director Philippe Odouard said the CATIA design software had been an important contributor to its success. "Developing and validating the Quickstep process to the high standards of our aerospace clients is an incredibly exacting process," he said.

"CATIA has helped facilitate innovation while also ensuring manufacturability and quality within the tight tolerances our clients demand."

Dassault Systèmes' CATIA allows aerospace manufacturers to reduce the amount of time needed to design composite parts.

CATIA allows aerospace manufacturers to reduce the amount of time needed to design composite parts.

Composite materials like carbon fibre are usually cured in an autoclave, which bakes them in gas at high temperatures for up to 10 hours.The Quickstep Process involves a unique fluid-filled, balanced pressure, heated floating mould technology for curing.

Quickstep engineering team leader Michael Kaeferboeck says the clamshell-shaped immersion vessel used for the Quickstep Process was designed using CATIA. "Quickstep started to use CATIA when the decision was made to enter the aerospace market because it is the software the majority of the OEMs use for their projects," he said.

"CATIA allows us to read OEM customer data for machining to create our own NC code, and to access the provided ply information for the ply cutter and the Laser Projection System."

The superior heat transfer qualities of the Quickstep Process results in shorter production times, fewer hot or cold spots in the mould, improved fibre-wetting and laminate consolidation, and reduced exotherm risk as the liquid carries away the heat more efficiently.

The Quickstep Process also permits more accurate injection temperatures or repeatable resin advancement during multi-step cure cycles, or during the melding of complex components.

The general manager of Dassault Systèmes Australia and New Zealand, Gilles Cruanes, says CATIA allows aerospace manufacturers to reduce the amount of time needed to design composite parts.

"We are proud to support a very innovative Australian company like Quickstep, both in its design and process approach to global defence programs and assisting it in opening new domains of application for its composites technology," said Cruanes.

With the Northrop Grumman agreement now in place, Quickstep is proceeding with a major new aerospace manufacturing facility at Bankstown Airport in Sydney’s south-west, using 4,200 square metres of buildings previously occupied by Boeing.

The new factory will be completed by May 2012 with production of JSF components to commence soon after.

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