Neutron diffraction enables wing quality to soar for Airbus

Plane wing

Airbus, a global leader in the aerospace sector, accessed STFC facilities and expertise to assure weld quality in welded aluminium alloys used in aircraft components, and to develop manufacturing techniques.

The challenge

Residual stress are those stresses that remain in an object even in the absence of external loading or thermal gradients. Residual stresses sometime remain in a welded structure when some parts of a weld cool and contract more than others, leaving potential weaknesses and the possibility of crack formation.

Residual stresses are often invisible to a manufacturer, unless they result in significant distortion. These stresses can negatively affect structural integrity. However, beams of neutrons can be used to probe deep into the structure of metallic engineering components like aircraft wings.

The experiment

Scientists at STFC’s ISIS Neutron and Muon Source use neutrons to examine the interior of large engineering components and identify areas of stress that might lead to unexpected behaviour. Neutron diffraction enabled measurement of stress fields in large aircraft wing test panels providing information leading to a better understanding of performance. The research for Airbus that took place at ISIS focused on the integrity of welds in aluminium alloys, which are often very difficult to weld, and to assess their suitably for future aircraft programmes.

The results

The research conducted enabled Airbus to discover areas of potential stress and weakness in its aircraft parts. Airbus engineers were also enabled to adjust manufacturing processes and to make lighter and safer aircraft parts at a lower cost. The process was integral to the development of welding techniques and confirmed the integrity of aircraft parts. This assured the quality of engineering components before the manufacturing process.

“Residual stress measurement carried out at ISIS has been invaluable in researching and developing existing and novel material manufacturing and processing techniques. The fact that neutron diffraction is a non-destructive technique means it can even be used to improve component performance in manufactured parts."
Richard Burguete
Structures Test Programme Manager R&T, Airbus