COBAIN | Next generation compact helicopter structures

Lightweight construction at the push of a button: Automated development and evaluation of composite manufacturing processes

Helicopters today are predominantly manufactured from carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). The weight savings achieved by the material directly result in a higher payload or range and lower energy consumption during operation. A particular challenge for economical production is low volumes, combined with the highest demands on quality from the first component produced. Significant risks arise when switching to new manufacturing technologies, resulting in a great deal of effort in developing suitable processes. In the COBAIN project, Fraunhofer IGCV is developing solutions for the automated development and evaluation of manufacturing processes in the overall context of the next generation of a compact helicopter structure made of CFRP.

Model-based methods play a key role in future-proof engineering processes

Model-based methods for the automated development and evaluation of construction methods and manufacturing concepts are an integral part of sustainable engineering processes. Especially in the development of complex products, their use represents a technological leap:

  • Concepts and studies are advanced to a high level of detail, which significantly increases accuracy in pre-development.
  • Different variants can be created and evaluated inexpensively by computer. This makes it possible to compare hundreds or even thousands of variants.
  • Changes to the product configuration can be incorporated literally »overnight« instead of taking weeks to months.

This results in immediate increases in product performance and quality as well as reduced manufacturing costs. Furthermore, development risks are reduced and innovation hurdles are eliminated. In sum, the technologies developed in COBAIN lead to competitive advantages that cannot be compensated in the future without model-based methods.

Fraunhofer IGCV develops and operates various system concepts for the automated deposition of CFRP components. These have different characteristics in terms of process costs and the component complexity to be realized.

Pareto view of competing manufacturing processes for composite components at Fraunhofer IGCV.
© Fraunhofer IGCV
Pareto view of competing manufacturing processes for composite components at Fraunhofer IGCV.

Complex interdependencies between design and technology selection

It depends crucially on the exact design of the component which technology represents the »sweet spot« where manufacturing can take place at the lowest possible cost. Even small changes to the design can mean that a less expensive technology can be used. Conversely, switching to a more complex technology can provide additional weight savings that increase the utility of the manufactured structure.

To map these multiple, not obvious, dependencies between the design and manufacturing process, the COBAIN project brings together various partners who combine expert knowledge along with the entire development and manufacturing process of modern helicopter structures. These include Fraunhofer IAIS and IFAM, the Institute of Aircraft Design at the University of Stuttgart, Ingenieurgesellschaft für intelligente Lösungen und Systeme (IILS) mbH, the German Aerospace Center, and Airbus Helicopters as consortium leader. For Fraunhofer IGCV, the teams »Processes« as well as »Online Process Monitoring« contribute the required expertise regarding manufacturing technologies, digital design, and automation.

Close cooperation with the SeMplex and Saturn projects

In the early phase of the project, the various sub-areas (domains) of the problem are structured and formalized in consistent data models. Here, the close personnel and organizational integration with the SeMplex and Saturn projects, which were started at the same time, is particularly advantageous. These are also generating data models for 3D printing (additive manufacturing) and for the pultrusion process. As a result, a digital process map is being created at Fraunhofer IGCV as a foundation for technology-open, automated development processes of the future.

Furthermore, various design and manufacturing concepts are currently being developed, which will be investigated later in the project using model-based methods. To this end, design processes and the subsequent calculation of decisive evaluation metrics are being automated. In addition to new insights into efficient helicopter structures, in particular, sustainable methodological knowledge, as well as new algorithms and tools, will be generated.

Cooperation with Fraunhofer IGCV

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Industry solutions

The key sectors of Fraunhofer IGCV:

  • Mechanical and plant engineering
  • Aerospace
  • Automotive and commercial vehicles


We are shaping the way into the future of efficient engineering, networked production and intelligent multi-material solutions.