Materials maker Solvay has opened a research center along with the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University.
An opening ceremony for the Manufacturing Innovation Center at WSU in Wichita, Kan., took place Oct. 5. The center is dedicated to "enabling the future of flight" through advances in composite technologies, Solvay officials said in a news release. The center is located within NIAR's Advanced Technologies Lab for Aerospace Systems.
At the center, aviation companies will have access to 150,000 square feet of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) compliant development, testing and prototyping, as well as the latest in advanced aviation material research, officials said.
Companies will be able to fabricate entire aircraft structures such as wings and fuselages at a fraction of the cost of making it themselves, they added. Using automated and high-rate processing with current manufacturing technologies, Solvay and NIAR engineers will work with customers to test ideas and innovative structures in real time.
These capabilities help to increase the adoption of composites and allow aviation companies to meet increased performance and efficiency targets, officials said.
"Our partnership with NIAR through this ... center is an important milestone in Solvay's ambition to help key customers across the U.S. advance the future of aerospace and defense," Materials Segment President Carmelo Lo Faro said.
"Here, we can explore the advantages of new composite material forms with the latest manufacturing technologies to create a lighter, safer and more sustainable aircraft of the future," he added.
WSU senior vice president John Tomblin said that having Solvay's material expertise on-site "is a major asset for companies looking to explore what's possible for future aircraft." Tomblin also serves as executive director of NIAR.
NIAR provides research, testing, certification and training for aviation and manufacturing technologies. Established in 1985, the institute has a $190 million annual budget; a staff of 1,200; and 1.6 million square feet of laboratory and office space in six locations across Wichita.
Solvay’s venture capital fund, Solvay Ventures, also recently invested in Plyable, an online marketplace for composite tooling based in Oxford, United Kingdom. Officials with Solvay in Brussels said that Plyable has developed proprietary software that uses AI and machine learning technology to enable instant quotes on cost and delivery times, while leveraging a network of manufacturers to make the molds.
Plyable is aimed at the automotive, aerospace and defense sectors, which officials said "are increasingly turning to composite materials to improve performance and fuel efficiency, and therefore lower CO2 emissions through lightweighting."
"Plyable's unique digital solution allows customers of all sizes to accelerate the pace of developing composite parts while also lowering the overall cost," Solvay Ventures Partner Coppelia Marincovic said.
The investment is part of a $3.2 million round led by Maven Capital Partners of the U.K. Forward Partners of London also is investing in Plyable. Funds will be used to further develop the software solution, while expanding Plyable's business footprint in Europe and North America.
Solvay employs more than 23,000 worldwide and posted sales of $11 billion in 2021. In March, the firm announced plans to split itself into two public companies, including one making specialty materials that would include plastics and composites.