Case Studies - PAC Composites

Hot Drape Former – Aerospace

Hot Drape Former – Aerospace Northern Ireland


As experts in a range of highly technical systems, including preforming, resin transfer infusion, and reticulation – we are experienced in delivering solutions to clients in the aerospace, automotive, marine, composites, and plastics sectors for specialist processes.

Preformers, or Hot Drape Formers, are one of our most innovative products. They can be used to produce a range of high-quality composite parts and components in a very energy and time-efficient way compared to traditional autoclave techniques. Composite fibre, such as carbon fibre, is commonly used in the aerospace and automotive industries due to its stiffness and strength-to-weight ratio. PAC Composites have developed a unique Quartz Infrared Preformer that can be customised and created bespoke for each client and their individual needs. It can be used for a variety of purposes including: hot drape forming, out-of-autoclave composite curing, honeycomb bonding, compression moulding, thermoplastic and thermoset composites, and more.

Our customers include McLaren Automotive, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Sheffield University), Bombardier Aerospace, Spirit AeroSystems, and Datum Tool Design.

For this project, we were commissioned to design, manufacture, and install an 18m x 4m Preformer. It is a vacuum former that uses Quartz Infrared Technology to create complete aeroplane wings. Our innovative Preformer is an integral component in the manufacture of the wings, which are the first certified commercial aircraft wings made using Resin Transfer Infusion (RTI). This process minimises the environmental impact of commercial jets and represents the first time a Preformer has been used to create complete wing skins outside of an autoclave.

While other processes involve pre-impregnated carbon fibre – requiring intensive refrigeration before manufacture – the RTI process uses less energy, fewer parts, and produces a lighter wing. The final composite wing is approximately 10% lighter than a metal wing, helping to reduce fuel use in flight, with an accompanying reduction in CO2 and NOx emissions. In addition, this new method of production Out Of Autoclave (OOA) has led to a 75% reduction of cycle time.

Our innovative Preformer technology includes:

  • Flexible Zoning – any part of any size, up to the machine’s maximum dimensions, can be created through the use of programmed ‘zones’. This significantly reduces production time and energy costs.
  • SMART Software – created by PAC Group, the software that controls the machine learns the production profiles. This ensures that parts are created right first time, which significantly reduces wastage. In addition, the machine can self-diagnose faults and alert the operator when conditions fall outside of the accepted range.
  • Fully Bespoke – PAC can produce ‘standard’ Preformers. However, each element – from the size of the machine, to how it loads, to the location of control panels and sensors – can be customised based entirely on client needs and preferences.
  • Patented Technology – PAC Group hold 42 patents on the Preformer hardware and software.

PAC Composites were able to install the machine in the midst of a functioning clean room, in a production area. An environmental booth was built to protect the conditions within the facility and to ensure that both temperature and humidity remain unaffected during the process.

All process parameters are logged for each batch and are available on the client’s network for full NADCAP traceability.

PAC Group included a full three year support package in the project, which gives the end user peace of mind and security for their business needs.

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