The CompositesWorld Expo returned to the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Ill., Sept. 28-30, and again featured a robust conference agenda coupled with an exposition and a quartet of high-profile keynote speakers.
The conference again featured two tracks: The Introductory track, for industry newcomers, included a primer on composite materials and fabrication techniques, an assessment of out-of-autoclave (OOA) materials technology, a review of advances in vacuum infusion, advice about use of design tools in wind blade development and other topics. Industry veterens who sat in on the Advanced track heard about a variety of composites processing technologies, including machine-independent automated fiber placement simulation software, new tooling materials, automation strategies and advances in nondestructive testing (NDT) methods.
CWE keynoters represented key composites industry end-markets: Two spoke to conditions in segments that, despite the current recession, show strength and promise continued and significant use of composites. From the aerospace industry came Peter Wu, VP and chief scientist at Spirit AeroSystems Inc. (Wichita, Kan.). Wu reported no slowdown in composites manufacturing activity in the aerospace segment. Stephen Nolet, principal engineer and director of innovation at wind turbine rotor blade manufacturer TPI Composites (Scottsdale, Ariz.) mapped some significant challenges for composites manufacturers in expanding energy sector if the U.S. is to fulfill its pledge to produce 20 percent of its energy from wind by 2030. Among them are a 10 percent reduction in capital costs; a 15 percent increase in turbine capacity factor; and a 35 percent reduction in operations and maintenance costs. Nolet also discussed the importance of embedded sensors in blades that can signal real or potential failure, noting that TPI has evaluated piezo sensors, crack gauges and wireless load cells. Asked about the potential to automate wind blade production, Nolet was cautionary. He believes automation “will follow design,” and that composite fabric placement via automated gantry system (as proposed by some machinery designers) is too expensive. However, he sees automation as critical for fabric cutting and adhesive application.
CW Expo’s automotive and infrastructure keynoters, who hail from markets that have suffered setbacks, were frank but hopeful about the prospects for composites in each. Jim deVries, staff technical specialist and manager of the Manufacturing Research Dept. of the Ford Research Laboratory (Detroit, Mich.), discussed the role of composites in the aftermath of the unprecedented collapse in auto sales over the past 18 months, in the wake of record-high oil prices, the recession and its impact on buyers, and new, more stringent CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards. Lightweighting of cars, he noted, is critical, and if auto OEMs are to survive, greater fuel efficiency is mandatory. While traditional automotive composites have been, thus far, good ways to reach those goals, deVries contends that they won’t be good enough in present forms to meet future weight reduction goals, because they no longer compete with steel, but instead, with aluminum.
DeVries believes natural fiber-reinforced composites will expand, primarily in interior applications, and that lower-density sheet molding compounds (SMC) reinforced with carbon fiber will find application in the future. But, given the current carbon fiber cost structure, deVries says Ford currently favors aluminum over both carbon-fiber and glass-fiber SMC. Although $5/lb carbon fiber could be competitive at higher production volumes, deVries questioned whether fiber suppliers’ could supply enough carbon to meet automotive industry demand.
Dr. Habib Dagher, director of the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine (Orono, Maine), reviewed the Center’s work with a new composite technology for bridge structures. Called “bridge in a backpack,” it features structural fiber tubes that can be folded to duffel-bag size for transport, then inflated at the work site and infused with resin on a portable frame to form lightweight hollow arches. Anchored side-by-side in footings on opposite sides of the span, the arches are filled with concrete and covered with composite panels that support the roadway. Dagher says 50 percent of U.S. bridges now in need of replacement span 70 ft/21m or less, making them good candidates for this technology. Most interesting, noted Dagher, is that the new technology can compete on a first-cost basis with concrete and steel. Notably, Dagher’s group has attracted the interest of President Barack Obama’s “Green Cabinet.”
On the CW Expo show floorCompositesWorld Expo exhibitors made a number of significant announcements and had a wide-ranging group of innovative products on display, of which the following are a sampling.
Heated mandrel for on-the-fly cure
A potential breakthrough manufacturing technology was unveiled by Acrolab Ltd. (Windsor, Ontario, Canada), in partnership with McClean Anderson (Schofield, Wis.). The IsoMandrel Technology — demonstrated on the show floor — involves a new “super thermal conductive” mandrel, developed by Acrolab, which permits curing of filament wound parts by induction heating of the mandrel itself, during the winding process and without the need for a curing oven. An induction coil at one end of the mandrel creates the necessary energy, which effects cure of the composite “on the fly” in a much shorter time. The companies report that several test pipe sections, with both carbon and glass fiber reinforcements, have been successfully cured with the technique, on a McClean Super Hornet winding machine.
New carbon fiber source showcases products
A newcomer to the world’s small carbon fiber supply community, AKSA (Akrilic Kimya Sanayii, Istanbul, Turkey) emphasized that the company continues to expand distribution of its carbon fiber materials, mostly targeting industrial composites applications. Company officials are optimistic about the growth of the market and the company and featured in the booth a pair of new products reinforced with AKSA carbon fiber. One is a pultruded carbon fiber laminate designed for use in bridge reinforcement applications. The other was a sample of ±45° stitched carbon fiber fabric, produced for AKSA by weaver SIGMATEX High Technology Fabrics Inc. (Benicia, Calif.).
In-situ curing monitoring technology
Alpha Technologies (Akron, Ohio) raised a few eyebrows with its microwire technology. Developed by Thermal Solutions Inc. (Wichita, Kan.), the technology consists of a wire about the diameter of a human hair that can be embedded in a laminate stack. The wire then interacts with external sensors to measure temperature (up to 410°F/210°C) within the stack during the cure process to help optimize cure process control. The microwire also can be used in repair applications to verify that repair sites achieve required temperature for resin cure along bondlines. The company is working toward commercialization of microwire technology, which should come on the market sometime in 2011.
Rapid prototyping from BMC blanks
At the Bulk Molding Compounds Inc. (BMCI, Chicago, Ill.) booth, Len Nunnery, VP of global marketing, reported that the company now offers rapid prototyping services, without the need for expensive metal tooling. Highly accurate net shapes can be machined from “blanks” of BMC material using electronic design data, to produce a prototype part that can be evaluated and tested for performance specs. On display were compounds for electrical boxes, material used for automotive headlamp housings, and a new application in which the housing for auto airbag control units are injection molded with a proprietary BMCI product.
Recycled-PET core materials
Core materials manufacturer DIAB Sales Inc. (DeSoto, Texas) featured its thermoplastic Divinylcell P core, made from recycled PET and designed for use in wind and architectural applications. It is said to have good FST (fire, smoke toxicity) properties, resists water absorption and provides good mechanical properties. Densities range from 60 to 150 kg/m³ (3.8 to 9.4 lb/ft³). DIAB Technologies, the firm’s process, training and testing business unit, is offering a four-day course on resin infusion for composites applications, beginning Nov. 11 at its headquarters in DeSoto.
Warterjet machining technology
Flow International Corp. (Kent, Wash.) presented a paper in the advanced conference track, entitled “Optimized Machining of Composites in Manufacturing,” which discussed the differences between abrasive waterjet cutting and high-speed routing for composite materials. Waterjet is capable of higher speed at the cutting edge, and outlasts polycrystalline diamond (PCD) router bits, for example, by more than 50 times. Waterjet cutting does not introduce mechanical stresses or heat, and can cut without fiber pull out, says the company, who supplies waterjet cutters for aerospace and other markets.
Handheld ultrasound NDI
Imperium Inc. (Beltsville, Md.) showcased its newest handheld ultrasound camera for nondestructive testing of composite structures, the I-600, now with a 50 percent smaller footprint and completely sealed for easier operation. The camera weighs only 1.5 lb/0.68 kg and features a replaceable, conformable “balloon” tip that ensures good contact with the surface being monitored. The company is continuing development of is remote NDI program, in which NDI data can be transmitted in real time to an expert located elsewhere, who can interpret the data.
Laser-based ply placement
LAP Laser LLC (Cincinnati, Ohio) highlighted its laser projection systems, accurate to within 0.38mm/0.015 inch, says the company. Headquartered in Germany, LAP develops all of the system control software in-house, and has supplied laser projection equipment to wind blade manufacturers, among other customers.
Pre-made composite panels
Lingol Corp. (Wallingford, Conn.) showed its line of thermoplastic composite laminate sheets for a wide range of markets, including industrial applications. It supplies laminates made with more than 10 resin types, reinforced with glass, carbon and aramid fibers, from 0.005 to 0.5 inches (0.13 mm to 12.7 mm) in thickness, up to 330 ft/100m in length and 22 inches/560 mm in width.
Epoxy for “ditch-and-pot” parts
Magnolia Plastics Inc. (Chamblee, Ga.) emphasized a new fire-retardant, two-component, room-temperature-curing epoxy adhesive developed for use in commercial aircraft cabins and anywhere honeycomb panels may be used. Magnobond 5925 epoxy adhesive was designed to bond honeycomb panels for aircraft interiors, particularly in “ditch-and-pot” applications. This process involves cutting a U-like “ditch” in the panel, filling it with adhesive and then heating and folding the panel along the cut to form a right-angled structure. The solvent-free adhesive, said to have good chemical, moisture and environmental resistance, is reportedly suitable for adhesive applications that require an epoxy that is highly resistant to fire.
Filtration for resin volatiles
Phenolic resins specialist MekTech Composites Inc. (Hillsdale, N.J.) made its case for the inherently fire-resistant matrix material, with a number of technical papers that outline research that supports phenolic’s use in aircraft, mass transit, marine, offshore oil and other applications where fire can endanger occupants of lightweight, enclosed structures. Also on hand was the Passive Reactor, a compact filtration device designed to break down collected styrene fumes or formaldehyde fumes (the latter emitted by phenolics during cure) into carbon dioxide and water. The system, developed by long-time composites consultant Blaise Lewark, relies on active filtration media and is constructed from off-the-shelf — and, therefore, relatively inexpensive — components. Reportedly, a single passive reactor can service multiple molding cells.
Low-viscosity epoxy for infusion processes
Nagase America Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.) introduced its epoxy resin products, developed by parent company Nagase-Chemtex Corp. (Tokyo, Japan), to the American market. Designed for manufacturing composites in aerospace and wind turbine blade applications, the company’s offerings included a low-viscosity epoxy resin formulated specifically for resin infusion processes. Company sales manager Tony Green noted that the resin is the same one used by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA, Tokyo, Japan) in its celebrated research into vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) structural composites as a more cost-effective alternative to autoclave-cured prepreg in next-generation civil aircraft. JAXA has developed a small-scale (2m/6.6 ft) demonstrator, using the resin, plan call for a 6m/19.7-ft wingbox structure to verify its strength in a primary aircraft structure.
Portable NDI equipment
NDT Solutions Inc. (NDTS, New Richmond, Wis.), a supplier of nondestructive testing solutions, highlighted its FlawInspecta 64-channel, high-speed ultrasonic phased-array inspection system for composites inspection applications. Designed to address the need for rapid, low-cost inspection of large composite components, the system gathers data in real time for B- and C-scan imaging, which means, says the company, that the full waveform can be acquired without compromising inspection speed. The system is reportedly capable of a 30kHz pulse rate, which corresponds to a scan rate of 10 inches/sec or 10.3 ft²/min (about 3m/sec or almost 1m²) with a 128-element array.
Core for sandwich panels
Nida-Core Corp. (Port St. Lucie, Fla.) highlighted its NidaFusion SXO, an isotropic core material designed for use in composite structures. The product features a triangulated fiberglass pin truss system within the foam structure to mechanically link faceskins skins in sandwich structures. Specifically designed for structural applications within the wind energy, marine, architectural and transportation markets, the core recently achieved type approval by Det Norske Veritas.
CNC machining/drilling system
A long-time supplier of CNC machining/drilling equipment to the woodworking industry, Northwood Machine Manufacturing Co. (Louisville, Ky.) drew attention to its machines designed for applications in the aerospace industry, featuring GE Fanuc digital servo CNC controls rigid Mono-Block construction for heavy-duty use. The company has flexible standard machines available, and can custom-design to fit a customer’s application. State-of-the-art options, including automated tool changers, integrated dust collection manifolds, tool touch probes, programmable part locating stops with retract detection, modular grid worktables and more. The company also offers training and implementation aid at the customer’s production facility.
Spread-tow woven tapes
Oxeon AB (Borås, Sweden) showcased its spread tow carbon reinforcements TeXtreme and TeXero for all types of applications. On display was a new ice hockey stick, the Bauer Vapor X:60, made with TeXtreme materials. Produced by Bauer Hockey Corp. (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), the elite-level player’s stick is extremely lightweight, but meets performance requirements thanks to the lower areal weight of the spread tow material.
Low-temperature walk-in ovens
Industrial heat technology manufacturer Precision Quincy (Woodstock, Ill.) drew attendee attention to its low-temperature walk-in ovens. Designed to maintain uniform temperatures of up to 450°F/232°C temperatures throughout the oven cavity, the High-Performance EC Series ovens (available gas-fired or electric) feature a long list of standard equipment, including solid-state digital indicating set-point controllers, NEMA ball bearing motors, Gasketed door openings, easily adjusted louvered duct work, heavy gauge aluminized interior construction, heavy-gauge cold-rolled steel exteriors and more. All of the company’s curing ovens are reportedly in full compliance with NFPA-86, NFPA-70, OSHA and UL requirements.
Laminating & infusion epoxies
PTM&W Industries Inc. (Santa Fe Springs, Calif.) demonstrated its line of epoxies for laminating, tooling and, now, infusion processes. The PT2712 resin system comes with various resin hardener choices, and is ideal for infusing fiberglass, carbon or aramid parts, says the company.
Waterless ultrasonic NDT system
Quality Material Inspection Inc. (QMI, Huntington Beach, Calif.) featured in its booth its noncontact, noncontaminating, waterless ultrasound-based inspection system. Designed especially for inspection of composite structures that have a Nomex core (typically too “noisy” for some ultrasound systems), the QMI system uses a 50 kHz to 400 kHz frequency range to check adjacent unbonded cells. Most of the company’s business comes from testing services, which can accommodate structures up to 20 ft long by 7.9 ft wide (6.1m by 2.4m).
U.S. outlet for out-of-autoclave technology
After a successful three-year collaboration with the National Composite Center (Dayton, Ohio), Australian out-of-autoclave technology supplier Quickstep Technologies (North Coogee, Western Australia) has formed a formal U.S. outlet, Quickstep Composites LLC, to further demonstrate and qualify the Quickstep process for North American aerospace applications. “The new entity is located in Dayton, Ohio, close to a number of strategic suppliers and potential customers,” says Quickstep’s Dale Brosius.
Elastomeric tooling solution
Rubbercraft (Gardena, Calif.) presented an interesting paper during CW Expo’s Advanced conference track’s tooling segment regarding elastomeric tooling, which included solid, inflatable, reinforced and coated mandrels. Alan Hiken, the company’s VP of engineering and technology, described how the company provided elastomeric mandrel seals that fit the edges of the various fuselage barrel mandrels for the Boeing 787; the complex seals facilitate vacuum bagging of the massive parts after layup. They also produced rubber inserts for hat stiffeners inside the fuselage parts that help react the compaction pressure of the automated layup head.
CNC machining equipment
Thermwood Corp. (Dale, Ind.) showcased its three- and five-axis CNC routers for nonferrous materials. The company provides low-cost packages for small shops up to large machines capable of trimming, deflashing, or drilling very large composite parts in a single setup.
Lifetime oven warranty offer
At its booth, Wisconsin Oven Corp. (East Troy, Wis.) introduced attendees to its new W.O.W. (Wisconsin Oven Warranty), which provides a lifetime warranty for oven body and all major components, including recirculation blower, burner, heating elements, SSR, SCR, temperature controller and high-limit instrument.
NVD tooling for aerospace
Weber Manufacturing Technologies Inc. (Midland, Ontario, Canada) demonstrated its tooling expertise for a variety of applications. Jim O’Leary noted that the company’s Automotive Interiors business is still strong, based on its ability to produce high-quality slush, spray and RIM molds in nickel vapor deposited (NVD) nickel. Weber also offers precision molds in Invar, steel and aluminum for automotive exterior and aerospace markets, and has begun an NVD tools program for a major aerospace program.