A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

23. June 2016

Covestro LLC is in the early stages of developing a carbon fiber/polycarbonate composite material for application in first-surface interior and exterior automotive parts. The blue color is meant to show a breadth, not a limitation, in color and polymer possibilities.
SOURCE: Covestro LLC.

Paul Platte, senior marketing manager automotive and transportation at Covestro LLC (Pittsburgh, PA, US), spoke at CompositesWorld’s Thermoplastic Composites Conference for Automotive in Novi, MI, US (June 15-16) and revealed that the company is assessing application of carbon fiber/polycarbonate composites in first-surface exterior and interior automotive structures.

Covestro’s research is still in early stages, Platte said, but what he reported is promising. The company is working on development of thermoformable Makrolon polycarbonate tape or sheet products, ranging from 0.5 to 1.7 mm thick. Finished parts are “expected” to produce a Class A surface, would have properties similar to aluminum and could, said Platte, be used to fabricate automotive body panels. Tests, Platte said, show that the material can withstand up to 47J of impact energy, and it has passed the UL94 test for flammability.

Other properties of this material include a 1.5 specific gravity and low thermal conductivity — although Platte noted that carbon fiber-reinforced polycarbonate is 10 times more conductive than unfilled polycarbonate. This material would have to be coated to protect against UV exposure, and it is not, said Platte, compatible with the E-Coat plating/painting process.

Covestro’s work has focused mainly on use of carbon fiber reinforcement, but glass fiber will also be developed. The company is also researching a variety of polymer blends and assessing what is of value and interest to the market. In addition, the material can be backmolded (i.e., with ribs) to provide additional reinforcement. Platte said the company expects to see polycarbonate composites in consumer products by 2018-2019, and in vehicles by the early 2020s.

Covestro’s work on polycarbonate composites has grown out of technology acquired when the company bought Germany-based Thermoplast Composite GmbH in March 2015.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

23. June 2016

The composites-intensive Stratolaunch, being constructed in Mojave, CA, will have, when it's done, the longest windspan of any aircraft ever built. (Source: GeekWire]

Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, sports team owner, entrepreneur and all-around philanthropist, made some news earlier this week when he posted on his LinkedIn page a statement titled, "Tackling the Space Challenge." In it, he describes growing up in the 1960s, fascinated with the idea of space and space exploration. He also bemoans the fact that, 50 years later, it is still expensive and difficult to propel even modestly size satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). 

This difficulty, he says, led him to found Vulcan Aerospace (Mojave, California), which, with Scaled Composites (Mojave), is producing the Stratolaunch, a massive carrier aircraft that will deliver a launch vehicle (rocket) to a high altitude, from where the rocket will detach, carry and deliver its payload to LEO. 

Stratolaunch rendering. The launch vehicle will be mounted in the center of the middle wingspan.

The carbon fiber composites-intensive Stratolaunch, at 75.5m/238 ft long, will check in with a wingspan of 117m/385 ft which, by that measure, will make it the largest aircraft ever to fly. It will be powered by six Pratt & Witney PW4056 jet engines scavenged from two used Boeing 747 aircraft. It will, says Allen, have a payload capacity of 550,000 lb/249,475 kg and a range of 1,000 nautical miles. 

The Stratolaunch was supposed to fly for the first time in 2016, and Allen promises in his LinkedIn message that it will soon roll out of its hangar. Launch vehicle status seems more uncertain. Vulcan first partnered with SpaceX on rocket development, but the two companies decided to part ways. Orbial ATK did some rocket development work after that, but that relationship also dissolved. According Wikipedia, Aerojet Rocketdyne (Rancho Cordova, California) is currently developing a dual-motor liquid fuel engine for the rocket. 

Stratolaunch payload delivery schematic.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

22. June 2016

The super new and modern Shanghai Disneyland is home to some lands not found in other Disney parks, however, one staple remains: Tomorrowland. And composites had a hand to bring the futuristic Tomorrowland to life. Extensive sections of both the interior and exterior of the buildings and rides in Tomorrowland were constructed from fire retardant (FR) gelcoated FRP composite molded parts in several hundred different shaped and sized components.  

Construction finishes on the gold-colored FRP parts on the main concourse of Tomorrrowland. Photo credit: Jessica Lee, E-Grow.      

All of the FRP components needed for Tomorrowland were hand lay-up, manufactured by the specialist composites fabricator E-Grow, Shanghai, using a fire-approved laminate system comprising of Scott Bader's, Wollaston, Northamptonshire, UK, Crestapol 1212 ATH filled urethane acrylate resin, with the fire retardant pre-accelerated Iso-NPG polyester gelcoat Crystic 967 FR, supplied in a variety of specified custom colors.  

Several hundred different sized and shaped gelcoated FRP parts were produced by E-Grow for Tomorrowland. The FRP composite parts supplied included facades, passenger sections of the Tron roller coaster (which reviews say is the most thrilling ride at the park), parts of the Buzz Lightyear ride, the Lilo & Stitch Theatre, outdoor dining furniture and exterior cladding on the concourse and surrounding facilities.

To cost effectively produce all of the different sizes and shapes for the Tomorrowland project, E-Grow used a unique, patented wax mold process. Using a 3D CAM file, individual plugs are CNC milled directly from wax blocks to produce the mold plug. The wax plugs, which include surface texture and design details, are then used to cast large gypsum-based mold tools for the hand lay-up process. Once all the FRP parts are produced, the wax plug is melted down and reused. 

All FRP used in the park had to meet the Chinese B1 ‘reaction to fire’ classification for fully assembled composite parts, as stipulated and tested by the Chinese National Inspection and Testing Center for Building and Engineering Materials. To ensure that the fire specification was met, E–Grow used Crestapol 1212  urethane acrylate loaded with 170phr aluminum trihydrate (ATH) as the backup resin 450 gsm CSM and 450 gsm woven rovings glass fiber reinforcements were added as needed. 

‘Tomorrowland’ restaurant and outdoor dining area. Photo credit: Jessica Lee, E-Grow.  

Another Disney requirement was that all gelcoat be both fire-resistant and match the paint system so that should there be any damage to the paint surface the part would maintain its appearance. To meet these requirements, E-Grow used eight custom colors of Crystic Gelcoat 967 FR fire retardant pre-accelerated, thixotropic Iso-NPG polyester airless spray gelcoat. Crystic Gelcoat 967FR was specially designed by Scott Bader for the production of GRP parts in the building and transportation industry in areas where fire resistance is a key requirement.

Scott Bader’s Asia-Pacific team in Shanghai supplied E-Grow with materials according to a planned production call off schedule for each of the build phases of the construction project. The team managed all the inventory and supply chain logistics from Scott Bader’s production plants in the UK for the Crestapol resin, and in Dubai, UAE, for the eight different colors of the high performance fire retardant Crystic gelcoat.

Who's ready to ride the Tron roller coaster?

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

21. June 2016

This frame for the roof shell of the Roding Roadster R1 sports car will be molded at K 2016 using KraussMaffei's new thermoplastic resin transfer molding (T-RTM) process, through which caprolactam is injected into a preform and then in-mold polymerized to create polyamide 6.

KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH (Munich, Germany) reports that it will introduce this fall at K 2016, in Düsseldorf, Germany, T-RTM, a thermoplastic resin transfer molding process that uses in-mold polymerization of caprolactam to produce near-net shape fiber-reinforced polyamide 6 parts.

At K 2016, KraussMaffei will demonstrate the production of a 500-mm-by-600-mm automotive structural component with metal inlays under series production conditions. Frames for the roof shell of the Roding Roadster R1 sports car will be created in the exhibition booth several times a day to demonstrate the technology.

The T-RTM process begins in a press mold, where a continuous fiber preform (glass and carbon, 60% fiber volume fraction) is infiltrated with caprolactam. The caprolactam, as it is injected, is mixed with an activator/catalyst, which triggers the polymerization that transforms the caprolactam to polyamide 6.

"The production process on the KraussMaffei K 2016 exhibition booth will last about 2 minutes. The system is intended for high-volume projects and is designed for multiple-shift operations," says Erich Fries, head of the Composites/Surfaces business unit at KraussMaffei.

KraussMaffei says the low viscosity of caprolactam – similar to water – allows the matrix material to penetrate the fiber layers even at low internal mold pressures. For the application demonstrated at the exhibition, a clamping force of approximately 350 MT will be used. In addition, the high flow capacity allows the minimum wall thickness to be reduced and the fiber volume content to be increased to about 60%.

Top view, Roading Roadster R1.

The Roding part being molded at K 2106 features a thermoplastic tear-off edge that is reportedly easily removed post-mold. KraussMaffei adds that the multi-preform concept minimizes fiber waste and allows a tailored fiber architecture.

CW will be at K 2016 and will report again with additional information about this process.

Besides KraussMaffei, the following development partners were also involved in producing the Roding Roadster R1 technology demonstrator: Forward Engineering (component design, hybrid concept), Alpex Technologies GmbH (T-RTM mold), Dieffenbacher (production of preforms/handling), Saertex (fiber layers), Henkel (bonding), Handtmann (aluminum inlays), TUM/LCC (fiber selection) and Keller (extraction technology). 

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

21. June 2016

FiberCore Europe fabricated these composite canal gates on the Wilhelmina Canal in Tilburg, The Netherlands. The doors weigh 24 MT — 50% less than steel and 25% less than wood — and are designed for continuous water exposure for up to 80 years. 

Canal lock gates are, in many ways, nearly ideal for the application of composites, benefitting tremendously from the material's durability, light weight, high strength and corrosion resistance. So, it was no surprise when, earlier this year, highly innovative composite lock gates were installed in the Wilhelmina Canal in Tilburg (The Netherlands) under direction of Heijmans. These huge lock gates (6.2m by 12.9m) were manufactured by FiberCore Europe (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) with resins from Aliancys AG (Schauffhausen, Switzerland). The installation was relatively easy, because of the low weight of the parts in comparison with steel and wood. The composite solution was chosen for its extended lifetime expectancy (more than 80 years), durability in continued contact with water and minimal maintenance.

The Wilhelmina Canal is an important water way in The Netherlands, and a vital part of the transportation infrastructure. In order to keep up with the increasing water traffic and increasing size of the ships (up to Class IV), the Wilhelmina Canal is being widened and deepened near the city of Tilburg. The project has been commissioned by the Dutch water way authorities (Rijkswaterstaat), and is executed by a combination of construction companies Heijmans and Boskalis. Installation of the lock gates was done by the construction company Hillebrand.

Pivot points for the doors benefit from the weight savings. Further, the specific gravity of the doors is close to that of water, which eases door movement compared to competitive materials.

After project completion, the large vessels should be able to sail through this section much faster. This means less heavy traffic on the roads, reduced road congestion and consequently reduced emissions of COand particulates. The improvements to the canal will also create additional economic opportunities as businesses are increasingly using the canal network for delivery of products.

As part of the larger project, the existing locks II and III are replaced by a single new lock. Also, new sheet piling is installed along the canal sides and a more environmentally banks are being developed.

The composite parts were designed, engineered and manufactured by FiberCore Europe with Synolite 1967-G-9 resin from Aliancys, using InfraCore Inside technology. The large doors have a relatively low weight (24 MT), which is significantly less than comparable solutions in steel and wood (respectively 50% and 25% less). This makes the installation much easier, requiring simpler equipment and upfront preparation. Because the fact that the specific gravity of the door material is fairly close to that of water, wear and tear on pivoting points is greatly reduced.

The Wilhelmina Canal is being expanded to accommodate larger vessels and to enhance trade routes throughout The Netherlands. 

“Lock gates in composite materials are highly competitive in terms of cost compared to traditional material solutions based on steel and wood,” explains Harald de Graaf, CEO of FiberCore Europe. “Steel and wood gates require repainting or treatment on a regular basis and for that purpose need to be removed from the lock (with an interrupted operation of the lock as a result). In many cases, wooden gates need to be replaced with new ones because the water will ultimately penetrate in the material and reduce mechanical properties.”

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