Championing Composites: Concept to Curriculum

By on March 25, 2011
Championing Composites

If you own a bicycle, you are using something that contains composites to make it operate. A simple definition of a composite is a combination of two separate components that form a structure retaining the most desirable properties of each component. For example, plywood is made up of thin layers of wood mixed with glue; usually with the grains of adjoining layers placed at right angles to each other. The wood and glue are the two separate components that are joined together to form the structure that we then call plywood.

Advanced composites are usually fiber reinforced plastics. This advanced fiber reinforced plastics consist of a polymer matrix (the glue-like substance) reinforced with high strength continuous fibers of a predefined orientation (the wood like material). These advanced composite structures are found in helicopters, commercial airplanes and fighter aircraft – Boeing 787, F-22, F-18e Super Hornet and probably a lot of other stuff if we were to research it.

Then of course composites can become a lot more complicated and sturdier than our wood + glue = plywood example. And since these advanced and structural composites are found in aircraft structures we want them as advanced, sturdy, safe, and functional as we can get them! Structural composites are stacked and bonded fiber reinforced sheets. The stacking sequence is what forms and provides the balanced, in plane stiffness. Structural composites also are formed into sandwich like panels where you have low density, honeycomb, layered with a face sheet, adhesive layer. It actually goes face sheet + adhesive layer + honeycomb to form a fabricated sandwich panel. These structural composites would be found in a Boeing 777 which is 12% composites and 50% aluminum. Advanced composite solutions were applied throughout the design of the Boeing 787 which his 50% composites.

Designing with composites offers a lot of benefits such as high strength to weight ratio, fatigue resistant, fabricated to finished shapes, requires fewer parts, less fasteners and cost savings from fuel efficiency.

So what does all this knowledge about composites have to do with our Aerospace Institute? Well, everything. One of the key reasons we formed a St. Louis Aerospace Institute was to create a labor pool of trained, job ready entry-level aerospace and aviation workers. These workers need to know how a composite works as well as how to assemble one.

St. Louis Community College Instructional Designers have been working with our Industry partners to develop curriculum in composites fabrication (the making of the actual composites) and composites assembly (putting the fabricated composite into the product-the jet, the helicopter, the bicycle, the race car, etc).

Our community and industry partners that worked with our instructional designers to develop our composite curriculum were: GKN Aerospace, St. Louis; Boeing, St. Louis; Kemco Aerospace; Midcoast Aviation, Sabreliner Corporation and The Greater St. Louis Business Aviation Association.

The courses were completed in January 2011 but we needed to know did we get it right? Did we champion the composite? We needed to evaluate for validity before we could actually call the content a college course.

This test for validity was conducted on site at GKN Aerospace in February 2011. Courses were conducted by institute instructors, GKN representatives and our instructional designers to prequalified students that were interested in entry level positions in composite fabrication and assembly.

The pilot composite program was a great success. Composite curriculum has been championed and is ready to be part of our Aerospace Institute! Although this blog post is short, the road to championing the composite into curriculum was a much longer, winding road with lots of turns, splits and stop signs but with lots of good glue type adhesive our dedicated team of instructional designers and subject matter experts were able to champion the composite maze!

About Shayna Howell

Shayna was the Client Development Manager in the Workforce Solutions Group of St Louis Community College. She has over 20 years of experience in the Community College system in training and development, project management, program/course development, grant writing/administration and marketing.

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