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Helicopter Parts Take Shape With Rollon Telescopic Rail

Aerospace manufacturers are increasingly turning to carbon fiber in their quest to make aircraft lighter and more fuel efficient. But conforming carbon fiber into complex parts is a difficult process, especially when it comes to moving large plies of this cutting-edge material.

Recently, a large aerospace manufacturer asked Criterion Manufacturing Solutions, a specialist in custom manufacturing equipment, to create a carbon fiber drape former in order to build interior supports for helicopters. These machines include a layup table to provide a flat surface on which to stack the carbon fiber plies in the correct orientation before they transfer to a tooling section. The layup table also holds a vacuum apparatus which helps mold the plies.

Criterion designed the carbon fiber drape former so that an operator will arrange 150 pieces of carbon fiber in sequence onto the layup table. Those carbon fibers, along with the 25-foot-long table top made of steel and aluminum as well as the vacuum, require a 46-inch shuttle to the tooling portion of the drape former. Once moved, the carbon fibers are heated, cured and joined together to form a large tube.

This transfer of materials and machine presents several challenges:

  • The entire load weighs approximately 2,500 pounds.
  • The table top rotates and extends approximately a foot beyond the rest of the table, creating a cantilevered load.
  • The machine will run for an extended time, making repeatability crucial.

To address these challenges, Criterion needed an exceptionally strong and rigid drawer slide capable of holding a tight tolerance. After speaking to their Rollon representative, they chose Telescopic Rail — which is designed to handle heavy loads — to shuttle the cantilevered weight. “Prior to Rollon, we didn’t know that was possible,” said Noah Hardy, project manager. “Once we saw what the product was capable of doing, there was no other product to consider.” 

Telescopic Rail Takes the Uncertainty out of Handling Heavy Loads
Rollon's Telescopic Rail features cold rolled steel construction and inductively hardened and ground raceways to achieve high load capacities and a long lifetime. The rails also offer extremely low deflection and sliding travel with no play, even under maximum load when used 24/7. After extensive testing, Criterion reports the slide “performed amazingly,” without any issues. The aerospace manufacturer anticipates the helicopter part will soon go into full production with Rollon Telescopic Rail reliably shuttling the heavy, cantilevered load from layup table to tooling.

Although the carbon fiber drape former project began with uncertainty, Rollon's Telescopic Rail brought nothing but assurance to the designers. “It saved us an unknown amount of design time because...we didn’t have to get creative or elaborate. We were able to select the product and move on to designing the rest of the machine,” says Hardy. “It’s hard to measure that.”

To learn more, download our Case Study.