Until last-day rumors suggested that an obscure Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name might strand many of its 27,500 visitors and exhibitor personnel in Paris, the 2010 JEC Composites Show (April 13-15) was a bright, bustling hotbed of trade show activity. Unlike the 2009 show, which, at the low point of the global recession, was only moderately attended, this year’s event was characterized by an energy reminiscent of much happier economic times, with a more than 30 percent increase in attendance from outside France.
The flight cancellation rumors proved astonishingly true — air traffic in all of Northern Europe was halted for days, marooning many (including five CT staffers). The ash cloud prevented numerous exhibitors and showgoers from immediately returning home to capitalize on the wealth of new technology and business prospects they’d found on the show floor. But it did little to dim enthusiasm for the uncommonly robust level of new investment, new product introductions and technical innovations in evidence at the Paris Expo.
SGL Auto forges first link in industrial-grade CF supply chain
One of the biggest pieces of investment news was the April 6 announcement by SGL Group (Wiesbaden, Germany) and automaker BMW Group (Munich, Germany) that their joint venture, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC, had secured a site in Moses Lake, Wash., for a carbon fiber manufacturing plant that will produce 50K fiber for use in the BMW Group’s Megacity electric-powered urban commuter car (see our news item in this issue's “Composites Watch”).
The joint venture’s managing directors, Andreas Wüllner and Jörg Pohlman, sat down with CT editor-in-chief Jeff Sloan and technical editor Sara Black to provide additional details. Noting that the Moses Lake site allows much room for expansion, they hinted that there will be additional production lines as demand increases. “All partners have committed to a growth pattern,” said Wüllner. “If the car is successful, we can increase capacity quickly.” Despite speculation that the Megacity would be based on BMW’s Mini, Wüllner and Pohlman said this is not the case. BMW did build several all-electric developmental versions of the Mini for customer and market testing, but the Megacity will be an entirely new, all-electric, “purpose-designed” car made specifically to incorporate carbon fiber parts, including a carbon fiber chassis.
For the latter, BMW has developed an out-of-autoclave process, based on resin transfer molding (RTM), that the pair said will enable the automaker to quickly manufacture structures, using preforms assembled from noncrimp carbon fiber fabrics.
They also revealed that BMW believes it has cleared the manufacturing cycle-time barrier that for so long has discouraged the use of carbon fiber in chassis members of production automobiles. “Had BMW not found a solution,” Wüllner confirmed, “this joint venture would not be possible.”
The consumer price for the Megacity has not been determined, primarily because electric vehicles (EVs) are unlikely to rapidly displace internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles — EVs, by BMW’s reckoning, will earn only a 5 to 15 percent share of the entire auto market by 2020. The question for now, they said, is What premium will customers pay for a carbon fiber chassis vehicle vs. a traditional steel-chassis vehicle? Wüllner suggested that automakers might, at some point in the ICE-to-EV evolution, offer vehicles with a choice of steel or carbon-fiber chassis, with the latter more expensive but lighter, making the car more fuel efficient. SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers hopes to make more design and manufacturing details available by the end of the year.
In addition to the meeting with SGL directors, CT editors Sloan and Black traveled the busy Paris Expo aisles, visiting with stand personnel from among the 1,000 exhibiting companies, in search of newsworthy developments.
The following is a sampling of what was available to visitors on the JEC Show floor.
Resin removal scrapers for tooling
Distributor AeroConsultants AG (Nänikon-Uster, Switzerland) showed a new family of inexpensive yet highly useful handheld mold scrapers, manufactured by Elixair International Ltd. (Dorchester, Dorset, U.K.). Made from various thermoplastic resins, including polyetheretherketone (PEEK), SkyScrapers remove cured composite resins from composite molds without surface scratching and are also targeted to both production and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) organizations, where composite repair resins are removed. The scrapers can be resharpened multiple times, using a small supplied sharpener (the Skymill). Other shapes suitable for spreading adhesives (SkyBlade, SkySpreader, SkyGrip) are also available. SkyScrapers are approved by both Boeing and Airbus for MRO activities.
Glass fiber for European markets
AGY (Aiken, S.C.) is expanding its global manufacturing footprint by integrating products made at its Chinese manufacturing operation (acquired in 2009) with those produced at its U.S. operation. With the high-tensile glass fiber yarn now spun in Shanghai, China, AGY has entered the European construction and industrial markets, in which it previously declined to participate due to high duties on imported U.S. yarns. In addition, the Chinese plant now makes small-denier yarn for Asian-made circuit boards. At the U.S. plant, the company has introduced an ultrafine yarn, BC 3000, which contains just 50 filaments of 4-micron diameter glass fiber. Converted in Japan, the ultrafine fabric is laminated with epoxy resin to produce very thin printed circuit boards for ever-smaller electronics, including Apple’s iPhone, says the company.
Continuous thermoplastic composite pipe
Airborne International BV (The Hague, The Netherlands) reported that its Airborne Composite Tubulars business unit has delivered its first two continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic pipe systems for oil and gas applications. The two 600m/1,950-ft pipe systems will be tested throughout 2010 in a demanding offshore application, says the company. Its state-of-the-art production line is fully booked for the rest of 2010, during which four other products for offshore and downhole applications will be manufactured and delivered to clients. The company also is involved in the design and fabrication of composite propellers for naval ships.
Hardeners/accelerators for epoxy resins
Chemical supplier AlzChem Trostberg GmbH (Trostberg, Germany) showed its range of trademarked DYHARD resin hardeners and latent/nonlatent accelerators for epoxy resins. With a company history dating back to 1908, AlzChem was part of Degussa AG prior to 2006.
Structural polyester foam
Arkema (Philadelphia, Pa.) introduced its Luperfoam system, a combination of three products: Luperfoam 329, a blowing agent; Luperox DP33 G, a high-performance organic peroxide crosslinking agent; and a ready-to-use unsaturated polyester resin developed by Vosschemie Polyester de Moor (Lier, Belgium). This material can be used in structural panels for mobile homes, buses and truck trailers. The organic peroxide reportedly cures the foam in two minutes. Prior to crosslinking cure (hardening), the foam’s gel time, by design, is unusually long (between 10 and 50 minutes, depending on the selected resin grade), which provides the user ample time to distribute the resin evenly and homogeneously inside a mold. The density is 0.4 to 0.6 g/cm³.
AFP and ATL systems
Automated Dynamics (Schenectady, N.Y.), with new management and personnel in place, showed its capabilities in both innovative composites processing equipment for fiber placement and automated tape laying, as well as composite parts and structures for oil field and aerospace applications. According to the company, its machines can produce parts from high-performance materials, such as carbon fiber/polyetherehterketone (PEEK), in a wide variety of shapes, including complex geometries, in any size up to 40 ft/12.3m in the largest dimension.
Polyurethane sprayup system
Bayer MaterialScience (Leverkusen, Germany and Pittsburgh, Pa.) featured a glass-reinforced polyurethane wind turbine nacelle manufactured with a Multitec spray system from BaySystems. RLE International GmbH (Cologne, Germany) made the housing and benefited from the spray system’s high-speed, styrene-free application, which contrasts favorably with previous hand layup methods. With the sprayup system, the nacelles are first produced as half shells. A gel coat is applied, followed by the multicomponent polyurethane, followed by glass fiber reinforcement. Additional foamed layers from the polyurethane system create additional stability and provide insulation. Also in the stand was the company’s first RTM polyurethane part, a manhole cover manufactured by GMI Composites (Muskegon, Mich.) for the town of Roosevelt Park, Mich. The cover, colored green, weighs 75 percent less than cast-iron covers.
Association for the carbon fiber value chain
Carbon Composites e.V. (Augsburg, Germany) touted its large and growing network of members with various competencies that reportedly span the carbon fiber value chain. Established in March 2007, the organization now boasts 100 members, including new members from the automotive industry, says the group. Members range from university and research groups to EADS Innovation Works (Munich, Germany), with a shared goal of networking and technology transfer.
Net-shape parts out of the mold
The Carbone Forgé (Lentilly, France) stand was as popular as it was last year. The company showcased its expertise in high-pressure molding of net-shape complex and hollow parts (using integral metallic inserts) that require no machining after cure. Working with both thermosets and thermoplastics, the company produces aerospace components as well as parts for sporting goods and other innovations. These include Look bicycle parts, using a proprietary mandrel made from “fusible core” washout material. Carbone Forgé is part of a group of European companies focused on improving the understanding of in-mold behavior of composite materials and simulating that behavior to create one-piece parts with complex geometries.
Semipermanent hybrid mold release
Chem-Trend (Hamburg, Germany) brought to the show Chemlease 2185, a semipermanent, hybrid release agent designed to enable users to transition more easily from wax-based to semipermanent release technology. Like a conventional wax, the new semipermanent agent is visible to the operator during application and can be applied within standard processing temperature ranges. The cure time is about 30 minutes.
Woven flax-fiber yarns
Composites Evolution Ltd. (Chesterfield, U.K.) showed its range of Biotex natural yarns for composites applications. Biotex is available in 2x2 twill, 3-harness satin or hopsack weaves in three forms: commingled flax/polypropylene; commingled flax/polylactide (PLA); or flax fibers only. Preconsolidated sheets are also available. Processing involves heating to 180°C/356°F and consolidation by press molding, vacuum consolidation or autoclave. The company claims its “Twistless Technology” yarns are highly aligned and provide 50 percent higher fiber efficiency over conventional twist yarns, which reportedly makes them easier to impregnate and yields higher laminate performance.
Pressure vessel for fuel-cell powered vehicle
EADS Composites Aquitaine (Salaunes, France), one of 11 companies represented at the expansive L’Aquitaine Composite stand, held a press event to describe its recent work on fabricating a 700-bar pressure vessel for liquid hydrogen in partnership with Paris, France-based Air Liquide. The 2.4-liter vessel is part of a 250-watt fuel cell system that powers a unique tricycle, a vehicle that the company hopes will boost awareness of clean energy for broader automotive applications. Also on display was an ultralight helicopter fuselage in carbon/epoxy for Hélicoptères Guimbal’s (Les Milles, France) Cabri 2, which incorporates crash-resistant technology.
Multiaxial fabrics source
Formax UK Ltd. (Leicester, U.K.) held an informal press conference at its stand to highlight the company’s 10-year anniversary, complete with chocolate cake. The multiaxial fabrics manufacturer — the second largest in Europe for carbon multiaxials — offers thousands of products, each customizable for a customer’s needs. Fabrics are manufactured on machinery built by Karl Mayer Textilmaschinenfabrik GmbH (Obertshausen, Germany) that spreads the carbon tow inline for lower ply weight. Target markets include automotive, wind, marine and industrial, and the company reports more than 30 percent growth in revenue per annum. Further, natural fiber fabrics are in the works, says general manager Oliver Wesley.
Materials supplier adds moldmaking capabilities
Gurit UK (Isle of Wight, U.K.) emphasized its recent acquisition of wind blade moldmaker Suzhou Red Maple Wind (Suzhou, China). Damian Bannister, technical manager of Red Maple, the tooling business of Gurit, noted that the company has a low-cost base, high-capacity system for manufacturing long-life molds for wind turbine blade production. Bannister said the cost of the prepreg blade molds is about 50 percent of that for comparable tools produced elsewhere in Europe, and the company requires a 50 percent shorter lead time, just 12 weeks from receipt of geometric specifications. The technology, he added, will give his company the opportunity to develop tooling for other applications, and this is seen as the long-term objective. The company is developing a facility for the manufacture of molds for 70m/230-ft blades. All tools, says Gurit, offer dimensional accuracy of ±0.5 mm (±0.02 inch) and feature a carbon fiber epoxy mold surface with electric and liquid heating options.
Green R&D and manufacturing
Huntsman Advanced Materials’ (The Woodlands, Texas) theme at the show was sustainability coupled with innovative research and development. The company highlighted a number of activities, including sustainable manufacturing practices — such as smarter energy use, waste reduction and local sourcing — that reportedly have improved its “green footprint.” Natural fibers were featured in many of the applications at the company’s booth, and marketing director Thierry Perchet predicted increasing natural fiber and bio-resin usage in the coming years. New resin formulations include a toughened resin with nanoscale additives and a very fast-curing resin for resin transfer molding processes.
Polyurethane processing equipment
KraussMaffei (Munich, Germany) emphasized its expertise in molding machinery and processes, including those that enable the use of polyurethane in long-fiber injection molding (LFI), fiber composite spraying (FCS), reinforced reaction injection molding (RRIM), resin transfer molding (RTM) and more. The company also announced a cooperation contract with Dieffenbacher (Eppingen, Germany) to act as a turnkey supplier for all RTM applications.
Large-format flatbed cutter
Cutting table manufacturer Lectra (Paris, France) exhibited its new VectorTechTex FX 100 cutting solution for composite materials. Its table is available in widths up to 3m/9.8 ft and lengths up to 4m/13.1 ft. It can cut prepregged carbon fiber and provides multilayer cutting of dry materials, such as fiberglass fabrics and honeycomb. It is said to be best suited for large-format cutting applications, particularly in the case of wind turbine blade manufacturing. The table features new electronics, a new frame, a new vacuum turbine and a databus that reads system signals and looks for potential failures in filters, motors and other equipment, based on established thresholds.
One-shot LFT shipping pallet
Lomold Group (Cape Town, South Africa) was the winner of the JEC Innovation Award in the “Transportation” category for its groundbreaking long fiber thermoplastic (LFT) polypropylene shipping pallet. The highly complex, three-dimensional part is made in one shot through a single gate up to 100 mm/4 inches in diameter. The large gate size minimizes shear and helps preserve fiber integrity; the fiber length can reach 50 mm/2 inches, which gives the pallet very high mechanical properties and longevity — more than five times that of a traditional wood pallet. A multipart steel mold designed by KHS Consulting (Johannesburg, South Africa) and built by Chuan Lih Fa Machinery Works (Yuen Kang City, Taiwan) enables molding of a complete pallet in 70 seconds. The company plans to start production in September of this year and will sell the molding technology as well as the parts.
Multiple meter/mix/dispense machinery introductions
A number of new systems made their debuts at the Magnum Venus Plastech (Kent, Wash.) stand. The Flex Molding Process injection molding systems (see photo), accessories and patent-pending seals are specifically designed to optimize infusion and provide better control of the production process. Sold complete with a training kit and training courses, the system is said to eliminate both the need to premix resin and the use of consumable tubing and fittings. It uses, instead, a meter/mix infusion system that provides a direct feed to the infusion membrane. The new Patriot Duo 1:1 Silicone System, designed to dispense silicone materials, produces the reusable membranes used in the infusion process. The Duo mixes and dispenses multiple 1:1 volumetric materials and can mix/dispense viscous materials through a gravity feed system that eliminates the need for a ram pump.
Two other new infusion systems were introduced: the Patriot Pro Innovator System for injecting polyester, vinyl ester and methacrylate resins and catalysts at controlled pressures; and the Patriot Megaject Innovator System. The latter’s AutoHead features on-demand mixing. In both systems, the mix takes place at the injection head, and the catalyst ratio can be adjusted from 0.75 to 2.5 percent.
The Universal Proportioner System is a mix/meter/dispense system for epoxy and urethane laminating resin and coatings. An air motor drives a heavy-duty rocker-arm linkage drive, which operates two double-acting reciprocating piston pumps. The resin side is fixed, and the hardener side is adjustable, using an upper and lower screw/clamp block to set the ratio range. The MicroPro Proportioner, for low-flow-rate metering of epoxies, urethanes and silicones, is designed for low- and high-pressure applications with material viscosity from 20 cps to 40,000 cps and flow rates of less than 0.5 gal/min (1.893 L/min).
The high-output Titan S4 infusion system features a range of outputs from as low as 0.5 L/min up to 70 L/min. It allows the operator to adjust the catalyst ratio settings from the instrument panel at any time during mold fill. Four independent fluid mixing channels provide four different levels of resin reactivity. Each channel can deliver up to 10 infusion inlets (40 mold inlets can be infused simultaneously), and each is independently pressure-controlled at the mold face, using pneumatic pressure vacuum sensors.
Robotic automation for composites
Matrasur Composites (Marcoussis, France) held a press conference to highlight automation trends in composites and to illustrate the company’s contribution to automating composites fabrication, pointing out that 5,500 of its robotic units have been installed, to date, during its 30-year history. According to company spokesman Claude Chouet, the company’s staff of engineers studies each customer’s situation and goals and then designs an integrated and affordable robotic solution that can significantly improve productivity. In one example, Matrasur’s industrialization program for a pool manufacturer included automated transfer from work cell to work cell, which resulted in a 67 percent decrease in labor hours per pool, as well as material savings.
Performance study: Boron-free E-CR glass fibers
Glass fiber source Owens Corning (Toledo, Ohio) announced the Composite App Challenge (see the news item in this issue's “Composites Watch”) and reported that a new study indicates its boron-free Advantex E-CR glass fiber outperforms standard E-glass reinforcements in corrosive environments. The study combined corrosion and stress testing and later examined the composite laminates, using SEM (scanning electron microscopy) and EDX (energy dispersive X-ray) spectroscopy. The E-CR fibers reportedly demonstrated superior corrosion resistance in composite structures exposed to a solution of 10 percent sulfuric acid. The study also confirmed previous findings on the leaching mechanism of E-glass in acidic environments.
Spread-tow wovens and unidirectionals
Oxeon (Borås, Sweden) exhibited its trademarked TeXtreme spread-tow woven fabrics and TeXero unidirectional tapes. The lightweight materials reduce the weight of composite parts while enhancing their surface finish and mechanical performance, says the company. Oxeon spread-tow materials are used for manufacturing a diverse range of products, from high-performance vehicles and aircraft to sports equipment. Future developments may include spread-tow natural fiber fabrics, the company hints.
Polyethylene fiber/polyester resin laminates
Pecolit Kunststoffe GmbH (Schifferstadt, Germany), a provider of fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) laminated sheet materials, introduced what it claims is the world’s strongest composite flat sheet product. The reinforcement fabric is a Dyneema woven polyethylene roving, supplied by DSM Dyneema (Geleen, The Netherlands), and the matrix is a polyester resin. The company’s FRP sheet products are targeted to the transportation, building, construction and wastewater industries.
Continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastics
PMC/Baycomp (Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Camarillo, Calif.) showed its range of trademarked CFRT (continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic) tape and sheet materials aimed primarily at sports and medical applications but used in notebook computer components, aircraft seats and other end-uses as well. The company offers an all-recycled-plastic matrix material made from recycled bottles for green applications.
Green thermoplastic reinforcing tapes
Polystrand (Montrose, Colo.) showed its trademarked Polystrand “green series” thermoplastic reinforcing tape, designed to reduce thermoplastics processors’ environmental footprints. Made in a proprietary process that impregnates continuous fiber with a thermoplastic resin, the tape can feature fibers of any one of a variety of polymers, including virgin polypropylene, with recycled polyolefin as the matrix. The new product, with recycled content, approaches the physical properties of prime material at competitive prices, says the company. It is available in unidirectional, bi-ply and tri-ply configurations. Company president Ed Pilpel notes that the firm is involved in many end-applications for thermoplastics, including ballistics, cargo containers and aerodynamic skirts for transport trailers.
Bio-based SMC/BMC and polyamide
Royal DSM NV (Geleen, The Netherlands) introduced two bio-based materials for the automotive industry. Palapreg ECO P55-01 is a bio-based resin used in sheet molding compounds or bulk molding compounds for automotive body parts, including exterior panels, that reportedly provide Class A surfaces. The resin is formulated from 55 percent renewable resources (the company expects 100 percent within two to three years), but internal tests suggest that the high renewables content does not negatively affect product performance or production speeds. EcoPaXX is a bio-based, high-performance polyamide 4/10 that combines the benefits of a high melting point (250°C/482°F), low moisture absorption and good resistance to various chemical substances, including road salt. Approximately 70 percent of the material is based on building blocks derived from castor oil, a renewable resource. www.dsmcompositeresins.com
New facility in China
Sigmatex (Runcorn, Cheshire, U.K. and Benicia, Calif.) expressed optimism for a turnaround in the coming months, particularly for ballistics and vehicle armor markets. It reports that it has recently opened a new facility in Shanghai, China. The 36,000-ft² (3,344m²) weaving facility is the same size as the company’s U.S. plant.
High-performance epoxy resin systems
Sika Deutschland GmbH (Bad Urach, Germany) showcased two new epoxy resin systems from Sika’s Tooling and Composites group. One, Biresin CR122, is approved for motorized gliders and is optimized for hand layup processes and room-temperature cure, with a service temperature of 120°C/248°F. The second, Biresin CR84, offers a very long pot life (more than 10 hours) for filament winding processes, with no dripping, and is targeted to large-part fabrication, says the company. Approved by Germanischer Lloyd, the resin is being used to fabricate very large filament-wound tubes for a massive public sculpture, designed by Rita McBride for the Effnerplatz in Munich, Germany.
Progress report: CNT-based sizings
3B, The Fibreglass Co. (Battice, Belgium) announced a joint development agreement with Nanocyl (Sambreville, Belgium) to develop unique carbon nanotube (CNT) sizings that both companies claim will enable breakthrough performance for thermoset and thermoplastic composites. The new Sizicyl CNT sizing products are expected to improve electrical and mechanical laminate properties, particularly for wind blade applications. The company’s glass products were recently featured in an innovative design for the new Sheraton Hotel at Malpensa Airport, near Milan, Italy. Pultruded fiberglass sheet material was used to create curved architectural claddings at much lower weight, says the company.
Glass-filled PEEK polymer
New to Victrex Polymer Solutions’ (Thornton Cleveleys, U.K.) PEEK (polyetheretherketone) line of polymers is the ST series, including STG45 (unfilled) and STG45GL30 (30 percent glass-filled). Designed for high-temperature applications that require high mechanical performance and dimensional stability, the unfilled grade performs in the 150°C to 200°C (302°F to 392°F) range, and the filled grade can go higher than 300°C/572°F.
Compression molded aircraft seats
Xperion (Herford, Germany) and Cutting Dynamics Inc. (CDI, Avon, Ohio) announced a new joint venture that will be headquartered at CDI’s Avon location. Xperion is a former EADS composites division, and CDI is a well-known supplier to many aerospace OEMs. In partnership with The Boeing Co. (Seattle, Wash.), the two companies have developed numerous composite components for the 787 Dreamliner. Principal among these are lightweight aircraft seat backs and frames made with Xperion/CDI’s patented CCM (continuous compression molding) Technology. The composite seats meet or exceed performance goals for aluminum materials, and they meet all flame, smoke and toxicity (FST) requirements.
Nano-enhanced mold care products
Zyvax Inc. (Ellijay, Ga.) emphasized two new products at its stand. Sealer SF is a mold protectant that uses a nano-based backbone and has no pollutants, odors or emissions. It is designed to increase the duty cycle of any mold, and it protects the mold and component surfaces from wear and damage. The product is thermally stable to 750°F/399°C and can be applied at room temperature. Employing a similar chemistry, including the nano-based backbone, Nano Release is a high-performance release coating that is thermally stable, nonflammable, odor-free and free of pollutants and other volatile compounds. Both products are part of the company’s eco-friendly, sustainable-product development initiative.