U.S.-based advanced composite materials company Hexcel Corp. is strengthening its aerospace footprint in Europe with the opening of a new carbon fiber plant in Isère, France, and a planned research facility nearby.
The new 200 million euro ($230.3 million) plant manufactures carbon fiber and polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor, securing the supply of composites to local aerospace programs, namely for Airbus SA's A350 XWB and the Safran CFM International LEAP engine.
In an Oct. 2 statement, Hexcel said it selected the location due to the proximity to other sites, the quality of infrastructure in the region and availability of competitively-priced electricity in France.
The company runs what it claims to be the biggest carbon fiber weaving plant in Europe in Les Avenieres and manufactures prepeg fabrics and carbon fibers at a plant in Dagneux, both close to the new site.
The new plant will complete Hexcel's ecosystem for the high-performance composite materials sector covering the entire production chain from carbon fiber to prepegs.
Until now, Hexcel produced PAN in Decatur, Ala., that was shipped to France.
“We have met the challenges of constructing and transferring PAN and carbon fiber manufacturing technology from our American sites to France, and we are able to respond to the needs of aerospace customers and their growing demand for carbon composite materials,” Thierry Merlot, Hexcel president Europe/Asia-Pacific/Middle East/Africa said.
The plant, according to Merlot, has already received its first aerospace certifications.
“Recent acquisitions and partnerships have enabled us to diversify and acquire new technology solutions such as additive manufacturing, adhesives, pultrusion processes and thermoplastics,” Merlot added.
In March, French materials supplier Arkema SA and Hexcel entered into a strategic alliance to develop thermoplastic composite solutions for the aerospace sector, combining Hexcel's expertise in carbon fiber and that of Arkema in PEKK.
As part of the project, the two companies will develop carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic tapes to produce lightweight parts for future generations of aircraft.
In addition, last year Hexcel acquired Structil SA, a smaller French composites maker — owned by Safran and Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. — which supplies high-performance composites for the aerospace, defense and industrial markets.
Hexcel has also announced plans to launch a 3,500-square-meter R&D center at its Les Avenières site scheduled for the first quarter of 2019.
The new center will focus on new processes and "out-of-autoclave" technologies.
“We are entering a highly active phase of research and development in order to design new generation materials and processes for the engines and aircraft of tomorrow,” Merlot said.