Spirit AeroSystems is installing one of the world’s largest autoclaves at its Wichita, Kansas facility to support increasing composite production and boost its total composite capacity. The new equipment is 30 ft. in diameter and 120 ft. long. It has an internal volume of more than 78,000 ft.3 and is just one of Spirit’s 40 autoclaves.

The giant machine was made by Thermal Equipment Corp. Matt Milas, Spirit’s deputy 787 program manager, says it was customized for Spirit, based on the specifications for the 787 program. “The primary consideration for this autoclave was the size.” In addition to its 30-ft. diameter, the autoclave has a working depth of 80 ft.

Apart from size, the Thermal Equipment autoclave has full redundancy in its control system and in the software that performs virtual inspections of the system. “This ensures that the product cures as prescribed by the process requirements,” Milas notes.

The Spirit exec says having redundant composite capacity to ensure the continuity of 787 structures for Spirit’s primary customer, Boeing, was the main consideration in acquiring this autoclave. However, “the additional capacity will be available for future rate increases and could be available to support other new business.”

Terry George, vice president of Spirit’s 787 program, says the new machine will help the company meet record demand for its products. He insists that, “Spirit’s capabilities in composites are unmatched.” The company makes aluminum and composite structures, including fuselages, pylons, nacelles and wing structures, for a variety of military and commercial customers and at several U.S. and international sites. The new autoclave is part of a 94,000 ft.2 expansion of Spirit’s Composite Fuselage Facility in Wichita, where the company makes the composite nose section for the 787.