An overcast sky couldn’t cloud the sunny atmosphere inside the Paris Expo during the 2011 JEC Composites Show. Held as always in Porte de Versailles, Paris (March 29-31), the composites industry’s largest and best-attended trade event reflected a decidedly upward trend. The trend was nowhere more evident than in the recently much beleaguered automotive segment. A casual visitor, unfamiliar with the event’s focus, might have mistaken this year’s gathering for a car show, and a high-end one at that. Among the many autos on display was a carbon-fiber intensive Lamborghini Aventador hypercar, carefully encased in a customized black-fabric booth. Judging by the number of cars, passenger cells and car parts — almost all molded of carbon fiber — it was clear that many exhibitors believe the future of the composites community is riding on four wheels.
Carbon fiber for car lightweighting
Carbon fiber manufacturer SGL Group (Wiesbaden, Germany) made a splash at this show a year ago when it announced that its joint venture with BMW Group, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, was to build a carbon fiber manufacturing plant in Moses Lake, Wash., to produce fiber for the passenger cell of the forthcoming all-electric BMW i3 (formerly Megacity Vehicle). At this year’s show, SGL confirmed that the Moses Lake plant is on schedule for first delivery of fiber in the third quarter. The plant’s capacity will be 3,000 metric tonnes (6.613 million lb) of 50K standard-modulus carbon fiber per year.
The Moses Lake facility will be fed with polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor from a Mitsubishi/SGL joint venture in Japan. Finished 50K tow will be shipped to Wackersdorf, Germany, where it will be woven into noncrimp fabrics, which will travel to Landshut, Germany, for stacking, preforming, stamping, resin transfer molding (RTM) and machining for the passenger cell.
Andreas Wüllner, managing director of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, says SGL already is testing the weaving technology for the noncrimp fabrics in Wackersdorf and is confident that the car, due to market in 2013, will remain on schedule. Indeed, SGL displayed in its booth a completed passenger cell (see photo, below right) for the i3. It featured blue and white tape over the cell’s joints to hide some of the technology behind the cell. Look for similar technology in the just-announced hybrid-electric BMW i8, also due out in 2013. In fact, Wüllner says, BMW is so committed to the use of carbon fiber composites in its cars that SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers is already planning to expand the Moses Lake plant. BMW had a recruitment booth at the show to hire composites engineers.
Another attention-getting auto was the new, yet-to-be-released Audi RS3, with carbon fiber fenders that were resin transfer molded by Sora Composites (Change, France), a first for Audi, says Sora.
There were, however, many more developments displayed on the Paris Expo show floor, in a number of composites end-markets. The CT staff was on hand, as always, and found on display the following noteworthy items.
On the show floor
New glass fiber for PCBs
AGY Holdings LLC (Aiken, S.C.) introduced a completely new glass fiber at the show, designated S-3 HDI, for high-performance printed circuit boards (PCBs). Designed to meet the demanding technical requirements of high-density interconnect (HDI) issues, wherein increasing functionality is tightly packed within the increasingly cramped space of new devices, the new fiber offers a very high tensile modulus for better dimensional stability and less warping, as well as a lower coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) to withstand the higher temperatures of lead-free soldering during production.
Laser projection with debris sensor
Assembly Guidance Systems Inc. (Chelmsford, Mass.) demonstrated its new ProjectorVision laser projection system. The system is designed to prevent foreign object debris (FOD) from ruining a part. The machine’s vision system automatically detects any debris or stray materials in the mold during the laser-guided layup process and then locks the system to prevent further progress until the debris is removed.
Vinyl ester resin & acrylic adhesive
Ashland Performance Materials (Dublin, Ohio) showcased its concept house, made almost entirely from composites; highlighted its complete solutions portfolio for the wind power, transportation and marine markets; and spotlighted Derakane 610C-200 epoxy vinyl ester resin, introduced in January, which is specifically designed for use in structural fiberglass-reinforced polymer (FRP) for applications such as bridges, columns and beams that require a high level of fire resistance. Also, Pliogrip 1000-series acrylic adhesive was made available to the European market. Specifically designed for stringer and deck-to-hull bonding of FRP and gel coat surfaces in boat construction, the material exhibits long open times (more than 120 minutes) and high body and gap-filling properties. For general-purpose applications in transportation and construction, Pliogrip 1000c acrylic structural adhesives provide high bonding performance on FRP, aluminum and stainless steel, plus many thermoplastic substrates, with very low sag, excellent cold-side impact performance and fast fixture times.
Advanced Composites Group Ltd. (ACG, Heanor, Derbyshire, U.K.) was in the spotlight for Carbovar composite tooling technology, the winner of the JEC Innovation Award in the Equipment category. Developed jointly with Integran Technologies (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), the technology combines ACG’s lightweight carbon prepregs and Integran’s Nanovate-NV nickel-iron alloy surface coating. Carbovar reportedly has all the advantages of a composite tool, such as low thermal mass, light weight and lower cost, with the surface durability and hardness of a metal tool. The two companies continue to optimize the tool substrate and coating, thus minimizing thermally induced distortions, and are looking for interested industry evaluators.
Bagging materials & durable composite tools
Airtech International Inc. (Huntington Beach, Calif.) provided live demos on custom-engineered vacuum bagging materials for infusion as well as solutions for hollow stiffeners. Many new products were on display, including additions to the company’s extensive tooling range. Beta Prepreg, a JEC Innovation Award finalist in the Equipment category, is a tooling prepreg with a unique toughening technology. Based on a benzoxazine resin system developed by partner Henkel AG & Co. (Düsseldorf, Germany), it reportedly can be stored at room temperature for up to six months with no loss of tack. Properties are superior to conventional epoxy and bismaleimide (BMI) systems, says the company, with high glass-transition temperature and high-temperature service stability for long tool life. Also on display: new super-wide bagging film, up to 12m/39 ft wide, for reducing layup time when fabricating vacuum bags for big parts, such as wind blades; and TB G48, a new high-temperature carbon fiber tooling board intended for mold support, jigs and fixtures.
Distribution network growth
Distributor Azelis (Antwerp, Belgium) had a large stand reflecting its considerable growth in the European composites industry. Emphasizing its strong customer and supplier relationships, the company points out that its historical roots go back to the mid-1970s to Arnaud, one of the founding members of Azelis in France and Eastern Europe and also through Tradex Colori in Italy, which also later became part of the Azelis Group. Azelis has more than 60 technical specialists working in the composites market sector and reports that its composites sales have doubled over the past three years.
Prepreg/semipreg production in U.S.
Guangwei Composites Co. Ltd. (Weihai, Shandong, China and Houston, Texas), a first-time JEC exhibitor, made a splash with its announcement of a €3.3 million ($4.8 million USD) research and development facility focused on development of lightweight carbon fiber prepregs and semipregs for sporting-goods, marine, wind energy and infrastructure applications. The company, originally a fishing-rod manufacturer, produces carbon and glass prepregs, 60 percent of which are used internally for its own products. Equipped with a large multiaxial machine (from Liba Maschinenfabrik GmbH, Naila, Germany) the company has the capability to spread tows and stitch and weave fabric forms for composite reinforcement. ISO 9001 certified and Germanischer Lloyd-approved, Guangwei also produces prepregs and reinforcements for the Chinese wind industry (its total annual production capacity in 2010 was 12 million m2 or 129.17 million ft2).
Expanded core line & more
Marine, automotive and wind specialist Gurit (Isle of Wight, U.K.) has extended its structural core product range to include PVC, PET, balsa and SAN core types, with a range of properties and attributes. Corecell T-Foam is positioned as an alternative to PVC and balsa structural core and features low resin uptake to reduce cost and weight. G-PET – Recyclable Structural Foam not only is recyclable but also has a practical balance of mechanical properties, temperature resistance, density and cost. PVCell G-Foam is a closed-cell, crosslinked PVC foam developed specifically for the Chinese wind energy market.
Gurit’s automotive composite part-production facility, launched in 2007, secured further OEM programs in 2010 with Porsche and BMW/Rolls-Royce. This has driven expansion of Gurit’s engineering and design capacity: five additional CATIA design seats will be added in 2011. Further, Gurit will see this year the completion of an effort to implement TS16949, solidifying Gurit’s position as a leading Tier 1 automotive manufacturing facility.
Chomarat Group (Le Cheylard, France) held a joint press conference with Think Composites (Antony, France and Palo Alto, Calif.) to discuss their new partnership, for which Chomarat will produce laminate materials based on unbalanced design theory, developed by a team headed by Dr. Stephen Tsai (Think Composites) and Stanford University. According to Tsai, the partnership is an excellent example of how research and production can be fully integrated between a university and a company so the product can reach the market in a matter of months. Using unbalanced design, says Tsai, results in unexpected advantages, including less material, less waste during fabrication, deflection control in some parts, and bend-twist coupling. Target markets for the materials, which are offered in dry and prepreg forms, include aircraft stringers, floor beams, sporting goods and more.
All-purpose foam core
DIAB Group (Laholm, Sweden) brought to the show its new Divinycell Matrix Series of all-purpose foam core material, designed for use in wind, marine and transportation applications. Compatible with all main resin types, the Matrix line provides good peel strength, heat resistance, low resin uptake, easy machinability and good insulative properties.
Infusion injection valve
Magnum Venus Plastech (MVP, Clearwater, Fla.) emphasized its Flex Molding Process and, as part of that system, introduced the IVx3, a three-position injection valve, designed to streamline infusion processes. It features two G1/4 ports for resin supply and waste and is compatible with the company’s Universal Insert. Further, it is equipped for pneumatic activation and automatically seals ports when the air system signals that injection is complete. Multiple valves can be supplied by one injection system, and the valve is said to be suitable for all closed molding processes.
Reinforced polypropylene products
Glass fiber supplier Johns Manville Corp. (Denver, Colo.) launched two new products, StarRov 490 LFT Plus and ThermoFlow 672. The former is a polypropylene (PP) long-fiber thermoplastic (LFT) that uses a special sizing chemistry to reduce the odor impact of PP LFT compounds. According to VDA270 odor analysis, odor is reduced by 0.5 to 1.0 point, which makes the product suitable for interior automotive components. ThermoFlow 672 is a chopped strand polyamide reinforcement, designed for automotive, electrical, electronics and consumer goods applications.
Fiberglass for CNG tanks
3B - The Fibreglass Co. (Battice, Belgium) reported at the show that Harmelen-based Greenes Group, one of The Netherland’s leading installers and retrofitters of compressed natural gas (CNG) tanks for cars and light commercial vans, has switched to new tanks made by Gastank Sweden AB (Norrfjärden, Sweden) using 3B’s HiPer-tex high-performance fiberglass. The tank was a runner-up in the Transportation category in the JEC Innovation Award competition. Greenes reports that a typical 32L/8.5-gal capacity CNG Type IV cylinder manufactured from HiPer-tex glass fiber with a thermoplastic liner is 57 percent lighter than an equivalent steel cylinder. Although 3B’s fiberglass is still manufactured exclusively in Europe, the company announced that it has established distribution agreements in the U.S., China and India.
New hot-melt epoxy prepreg
SP-High Modulus, the marine business of Gurit (Isle of Wight, U.K.), launched SE 84 Nano, a new hot-melt epoxy prepreg made with 3M Matrix Resin (3M, St. Paul, Minn.). It was developed for marine applications where compressive performance is a key requirement. When vacuum-bag molded, SE 84 Nano exhibits a 20 percent increase in compressive strength compared to SP-High Modulus’ SE 84LV. Potential applications include
dagger boards, bulkheads, fixing plates and hull inner skins.
New glass strand and roving products
Owens Corning (OC, Toledo, Ohio) introduced HydroStrand, a chopped strand glass fiber for high-performance polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) composites designed for use in automotive and industrial applications that come in contact with high-temperature fluids. Potential applications include cooling modules, thermostat covers, impellers and pumps. The use of HydroStrand glass fiber in PPS composite solutions reportedly improves performance up to 35 percent after hot-water or glycol aging.
Two new grades of short glass fiber reinforcements for polypropylene (PP) were on offer, specifically engineered for automotive applications. Available worldwide, they provide alternatives to short-glass fiber-reinforced polyamide (PA) and long-glass fiber-reinforced PP in automotive applications. The new grades, 248A and PerforMax 249A short fibers, provide a balance of high-performance mechanical properties, tensile strength and impact resistance.
Also new is SE1550, a single-end Type 30 roving that is said to be compatible with all major thermoset resin systems and weaving processes. Available globally, it is made from OC’s corrosion-resistant Advantex E-CR glass fiber, which meets ASTM D578, ISO 2078 and DIN 1259-1 standards.
OC also introduced XStrand H roving, a solution for long-span composite parts manufactured via pultrusion. A proprietary boron-free glass formulation, the roving meets R-glass standards (ISO 2078, ASTM C162 and DIN B1259-1) and reportedly performs better than conventional E-glass. It offers greater stiffness, strength and fatigue resistance (up to 15, 20 and 1,000 percent, respectively), as well as resistance to strong acids equal to that of E-CR glass.
“Teachable” carbon composite robots
Matrasur Composites’ (Marcoussis, France) stand featured one of the company’s newest Robomat lightweight carbon fiber robots in operation. The multi-application robots are intended to economically industrialize commodity composite fabrication in open molds. The robot features a “teach-through” capability in its programming, which allows an operator to “teach” the robot to complete a task as the machine’s robotic arm is moved in the correct sequence of steps in real time, with the motor released. An encoder records those movements. Thereafter, the robot then can reproduce the same movements during automated operations. Robomat robots can be gantry or floor mounted for a variety of sprayup tasks, says the company.
Aramid for paddle sports & tires
Teijin Aramid (Arnhem, The Netherlands) exhibited its aramid products at a busy stand filled with visitors. The company revealed that it is now supplying Twaron aramid fiber to the paddle sports industry, following a recent announcement that Twaron is being used by Michelin as a reinforcement material in a new ultrahigh-performance racing tire for the supersport car segment. The tire has been developed jointly with Porsche, BMW and Ferrari.
Cutting-table manufacturer Lectra (Paris, France) released the newest version of Diamino, its marker-making solution. DiaminoTechTex (for automotive, composites and industrial fabrics) reportedly optimizes material consumption at the development and production stages using two different methods, depending on the material to be cut and the complexity of the model. Interactive marker-making is based on a manual method, and automated marker-making is managed entirely by Diamino and its algorithms. The software also offers a new rapid optimization function for existing markers, enabling manufacturers to save an average of 1 percent in material. The Optimizer function can be used on both markers created interactively and markers created in automatic mode.
Mold-temperature control systems
SINGLE Temperiertechnik GmbH (Hochdorf, Germany) displayed hot-water mold-temperature control systems for temperatures up to 225°C/437°F. The company notes that temperature control of molds with heat transfer media has been used for many years by plastics processors and can provide similar benefits for composites processors. “Even the high processing temperatures required by the composites industry do not eliminate the use of water as a heat-transfer medium. Water provides a significantly higher heat transfer capacity thanks to its heat-conduction and heat-transfer properties, which are superior to those of oil,” said Karlheinz Gruber, the firm’s managing director. At the show, booth personnel emphasized a new compact hot-water temperature control system that has a heating capacity of 6 kW and a flow rate of up to 30L/min (7.9 gal/min) for temperatures as high as 225°C/437°F.
Tackifier for prepreg & infusion processes
Zyvax Inc. (Ellijay, Ga.) emphasized its new StayZ tackifier product, designed for all epoxy prepregs and infusion processes. The spray adhesive holds materials in place during layup, but then it cures with the part without introducing any contamination to the laminate. The innovative new formulation enhances prepreg tack during layup and debulking, and because of its compatibility with the infusion resin, the infusion times can be significantly increased, says the company.
Laser-guided kitting system
Gerber Technology (Tolland, Conn.) announced LaserKit, a new laser-guided kitting tool, from its Virtek Vision International business unit. The new product helps workers assemble accurate kits for lay up of composite laminates. It does so by indicating the correct sequence of plies that technicians should pick up from the cutting table. In addition, the system minimizes material waste by calculating more efficient nesting patterns. Field tests reportedly reveal that LaserKit enables users to reduce composite cutting and kitting times by as much as 40 percent while decreasing the possibility of operator error. Available as an option to LaserKit is a lightweight printing device worn on a worker’s belt strap, which prints labels automatically or on demand, significantly accelerating the ply identification process. Labels can be affixed to individual plies or completed kits. In fact, says the company, multiple kits can be nested together, cut and then picked from the same table.
End-grain balsa core
Core materials manufacturer 3A Composites Core Materials (Sins, Switzerland) introduced its BALTEK SBC, a new grade of balsa end-grain core material. The product’s quality-assurance process is 100 percent controlled from 3A’s plantations, which allows complete product traceability for customers that require such documentation. By controlling the complete chain of custody, from plantations to mills, the company was able to obtain Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.
Electroforming services for tools
Galvanoform (Lahr, Germany) showcased its expertise in electroforming nickel tooling in virtually any size. The company has produced molds and mold shells for slush, spray, casting, rotational molding, inmold graining, injection molding and autoclave layup processes. Advantages, say the company, include the ability to create molds for very complex parts and to recreate very detailed surface features, such as a leather-like grained surface on an automotive instrument panel.
Lightweight seat back
Ticona (Florence, Ky.) was one of the winners of the JEC Innovation Award competition for the pictured thermoplastic composite aircraft seat back, codeveloped by A&P Technology (Cincinnati, Ohio), TenCate Advanced Composites (Morgan Hill, Calif.) and processor Cutting Dynamics Inc. (CDI, Avon, Ohio). It features a compression-molded pan that uses AS4 carbon fiber from Hexcel (Dublin, Calif.). The tape is prepregged by TenCate, using Ticona’s Fortron polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) resin. The seat back’s rim, which provides structural support against torsional forces, features AS4 carbon fiber prepregged by TenCate, which is split by A&P into 0.1875-inch/4.8-mm wide strips and braided into a biaxial tubular shape to provide noncrimping conformity around the edge of the seat back. CDI molds the seat back in a cycle described as “minutes” long. The company expects to produce several thousand seat backs for a major aircraft manufacturer.
Vinyl ester for food/water contact
DSM Composite Resins (Schaffhausen, Switzerland) held a press conference to introduce Atlac 5200 FC vinyl ester resin, formulated specifically for use in composites that contact food and water. Company president Michael Effing says the new product is fully compliant with European regulations for food contact and is produced in accordance with Europe’s Good Manufacturing Practices for the food industry (they are much more stringent than those enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Admin.). Intended for applications such as water piping, desalinization plants or food processing tanks and equipment, the resin reportedly represents a more economical solution than stainless steel, with very good heat- and corrosion-resistance. Said to be the first of its kind in the composites industry, the resin is compatible with standard manufacturing processes,
including filament winding, infusion and hand layup.
Epoxy toughening agents
Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, Mich.) offered two new product lines at the show. New FORTEGRA epoxy toughening agents come in three types. The 100-Series is based on proprietary Dow block copolymer technology. It increases epoxy’s ductility yet maintains low viscosity. The 200-Series consists of elastomer-modified functional additives that improve fracture toughness and peel strength. The 300-Series includes stable dispersions of preformed, novel core-shell rubber particles in epoxy, which have minimal impact on thermomechanical composite properties. New VORAFORCE products include both epoxy and polyurethane resin systems for composite fabricators. The epoxy-based systems reportedly deliver exceptional thermomechanical properties and are compatible with carbon fiber. Excellent toughness and fast curing are said to be characteristics of polyurethane-based resin systems.
Automotive exterior panel prototype
Quickstep Holdings Ltd. (North Coogee, Western Australia) followed up on the recent announcement regarding its research program aimed at the development of a new, patented automotive manufacturing technology, called Resin Spray Transmission (RST). Quickstep has been working with German car manufacturing line designer EDAG Engineering + Design AG (Fulda, Germany) to ensure that the company’s ongoing development of RST technology is in line with the needs of the automotive industry. The company has successfully manufactured a proof-of-concept painted carbon fiber flat panel to Class A automotive quality without the need for additional expensive and labor-intensive filling and sanding. Further, RST reportedly will enable the manufacture of automotive parts in minutes rather than hours at costs that are comparable to steel in vehicles with low to medium production volumes, says Quickstep, since the process involves dry carbon fiber rather than prepreg.
Pilot line for carbon fiber research
Harper International (Lancaster, N.Y.) had its new corporate logo on display and emphasized its recent contract award for a full pilot-scale carbon fiber processing line valued at more than $12 million (USD). A custom-designed conversion process, the line will support Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Low Cost Carbon Fiber research and technology collaborative research center. Harper is ORNL’s technical and implementation partner for engineering, process equipment, installation and startup of the line, which will enable ORNL to process multiple precursor platforms. Also announced was the company’s “next generation” of custom oxidation ovens that incorporate several process improvements, including proprietary and unique atmospheric seals that reduce fugitive emissions from fiber inlets and outlets.The unique sealing technology reportedly increases the active volume of the oven and reduces energy consumption.
UV-resistant gel coat
Scott Bader Co. Ltd. (Wollaston, U.K.) launched Crystic Permabright, a high-performance gel coat designed to provide long-term UV weathering performance by providing strong color stability. This gel coat is designed for marine, construction, wind-energy and transportation applications. The comparative long-term UV weather performance data for the product vs. best-in-class ISO and ISO/NPG gel coats came from accelerated QUV and xenon testing and 12 months of Florida exposure. When its delta-E color change was compared to the best-performing competitive white ISO/NPG gel coat, Scott Bader’s new gel coat reportedly outperformed it by more than 40 percent. After 12 months of exposure to Florida weather conditions, the company claims, it is difficult to detect any color change with the naked eye.
Tools, jigs & fixtures
Finnish tooling and production line supplier Meteco (Karstula, Finland and Bridgewater, Somerset, U.K.) touted its competencies in toolmaking, jig and fixture fabrication, 5-axis machining and complete manufacturing-chain design. On display at its stand were MetecoRock tooling boards, uniquely made from a mined mineral similar to soapstone. Intended for master models or prototype cure tools, this naturally occurring material reportedly withstands temperatures as high as 1400°C/2550°F and has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), similar to carbon. Although it is considerably heavier than polymer-based tooling boards, it experiences no moisture expansion, has very low porosity and is recyclable. The material is currently undergoing customer testing, says the company.
Coupling agent for ATH-filled acrylics
BYK-Chemie GmbH (Wesel, Germany) introduced several new products, including BYK-C 8002, a polymeric coupling agent for ATH-filled acrylic systems. The new agent connects the ATH particles and the polymer via a double bond to increase mechanical properties, such as flexural strength, by 10 to 30 percent. Also new: BYK-P 9928, a processing additive that suppresses foam formation when vinyl ester resins are cured with standard curing agents, such as methyl ethyl ketone peroxide (MEKP). By interfering with the cobalt complex in the curing agent and slowing cure slightly, the hydrogen peroxide is decomposed to radicals that properly react with the vinyl ester, rather than forming water and oxygen that create foam.
Process monitoring system
Synthesites (Piraeus, Greece) introduced OPTIMOLD, a process monitoring system optimized for composites manufacturing. It measures a resin’s electrical resistivity and temperature and allows for in-situ, real-time monitoring of thermoset resin cure. The system senses all process milestones, including resin arrival, viscosity increase, gelation and end of cure. Reportedly proven for use with resin transfer molding (RTM), light RTM, vacuum infusion and pultrusion, the system is expected to work in autoclave, oven-cure and compression molding processes.
Multiaxial reinforcement converting
Formax (Narborough, Leicester, U.K.) has installed a new Malitronic carbon multiaxial machine from Karl Mayer Textilmaschinenfabrik GmbH (Obertshuasen, Germany), which will enable production of unique new biaxial fabric constructions in variable widths to meet customer specifications. A new laminating line is forthcoming, which will combine surface veils with existing fabrics for Class A surfaces.