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AXIS Composites Launched

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CARBON FIBRE is light and strong so it is used in all sorts of products, from bicycles and fishing rods to racquet frames and sailing boats. The aviation industry is also a big user of carbon fibre and up to 80 per cent of next generation aircraft will be made from it.

Axis Composites in Belfast has developed a new technology for forming 3D woven carbon fibre that it hopes will have companies such as Boeing and Airbus queuing up outside its doors.

Its product is stronger and lighter than those that are on the market. It is also faster to use and has the potential to cut manufacturing costs in the industry by up to 60 per cent.

“Traditionally carbon fibre is laid down single layer by single layer and resin is injected onto the layers to make a rigid component,” explains Steven Kirby, the managing director.

“Each layer has to be placed in the correct orientation by hand so it is very labour intensive. Our technology produces a fibre preform in one component.”

The company’s product has applications in the aerospace, automotive, military, energy and ballistics sectors.

Axis Composites is a spin-out company from the University of Ulster. The two academics behind it, Dr Justin Quinn and Dr Alistair McIlhagger, have been managing the Engineering Composites Research Centre at the university for the past 10 years.

“3D weaving is based on the traditional technique of Jacquard weaving,” says Kirby. “However the application to carbon fibre is distinctively new and we have the added knowledge to integrate this into aviation manufacturing.”

Axis Composites is a minnow in the world of materials technology so what is to stop its bright idea being replicated by a much bigger organisation?

“There are perhaps four companies that have the capability to do it,” Kirby says. “What they lack is the advanced research to design and model 3D woven composites. It would take them five or six years just to do the basic research.”

Credibility is a big challenge for small companies trying to break into the world of international aviation but Kirby says years of research collaboration between Axis’s founders and companies such as Rolls-Royce and Bombardier means it is already well known in its niche market.

The company is looking to raise about €600,000 to fund the development of a manufacturing plant.

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