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A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

16. April 2015

ULA's Vulcan rocket, announced this week at the 31st Space Symposium, gives the US space program another option for putting people and equipment into space.

If you haven't been paying close attention to the space launch industry of late, you probably didn't know that it had been made quite complicated by Vladimir Putin. Indeed, the Russian leader's foreign policy antics in Ukraine, combined with some of his anti-United State rhetoric, has strained Russian-US relations, raising the spectre of the Cold War political struggles — even if only symbolically for now.

What's this have to do with space launches? For many years the United States has relied on Russia to supply its RD-180 rocket to power satellites and other craft into Earth orbit and beyond on the Atlas V launch vehicle. The R-180 is supplied by NPO Energomash (Khimki, Russia); the Atlas V is manufactured by United Launch Alliance (ULA, Denver, CO, US). However, as relations with Russia soured, this sole-source supply situaiton became, to put it mildly, unsustainable. It's been feared that if Russia were of the mind to do so, it could cease supply of the RD-180, leaving the US with no immediate alternative on hand. This has spurred the US government to call for US-made alternatives to the RD-180.

So, it was a big deal this week when ULA announced at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, CO, that it is developing a new rocket, called Vulcan, designed to make "launch services more affordable and accessible," according to a ULA statement. ULA, the statement also notes, is responsible for more than 70% of the nation's space launches, so a new rocket source is critically important. In addition, ULA introduced with Vulcan the Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) initiative, which will allow ULA to re-use the most expensive portion of the first stage — the booster main engines — via mid-air capture. 

Neither is ULA alone in its rocket development. SpaceX (Hawthorne, CA, US) is working on a heavy-lift rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which will launch for the first time later this year. It has a payload of 117,000 lb, which makes it among the largest rockets ever made. 

The upshot is that the US, finally, seems to have some rocket independence, which gives the American space program some much-needed space-access security.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

31. March 2015

Engel's concept for manufacturing a hybrid, brake pedal from thermoplastic fabric was on display at NPE2015.

Engel's concept for manufacturing a hybrid, brake pedal from thermoplastic fabric was on display at NPE2015.

Plastics recently saw its day in the sun during NPE2015 (March 23-27; Orlando, FL, US), the international plastics trade show that is held every three years. Some of the key players involved in thermoplastic composites exhibited a variety of solutions that are leading growth in new and emerging markets. Highlights included:

KraussMaffei demonstrated its FiberForm process that produced airbag housings made of fiberglass-reinforced polyamide with a shot weight of 350g in cycle times of 45 seconds. The FiberForm process developed by KraussMaffei combines injection molding with thermoforming of composite sheets to reportedly further improve the strength of fiber-reinforced plastics.

Lanxess presented a variety of exhibits featuring Durethan polyamides, Pocan polybutylene terephthalates (PBTs) and Tepex continuous fiber-reinforced composites in lightweight automotive applications. One key highlight was a hybrid design infotainment carrier made from a continuous fiber-reinforced polyamide composite and a polyamide 6 overmolding material that is being used for the first time in the Audi A6.

The American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA, Arlington, VA, US) sponsored the Composites Pavilion on the trade show floor as well as a half day of specialized technical education on the hot topic of thermoplastics to the Business of Plastics Track at NPE.

CW caught up with injection molding producer Engel during NPE to talk all things composites. In the next few years, the company foresees strong growth in the injection molding industry, particularly in the field of fiber composite engineering.

“Composites continue to become more and more popular,” Sebastian Picheta, who is responsible for Engel’s development of automation and handling solutions for composites, told CW. “There are so many new challenges to solve and that’s why we created our technology center.”

Engel established a technology center for lightweight composites in 2012 at the site of its machine production facility in St. Valentin, Austria. The technology center was created primarily as a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration with international partner enterprises and universities.

In fact, at NPE, Engel showcased one of the “milestones” that was achieved at the facility: a stress-resistant plastic brake pedal. The concept for manufacturing a hybrid brake pedal from thermoplastic fabric received the Composite Innovations Award in 2011, and has been consistently enhanced by Engel’s partner ZF-Friedrichshafen since then.

Using a vertical Engel insert 1050H/230 single injection molding machine with an Engel easix multi-axis industrial robot and infrared oven, a continuous-fiber-reinforced preconsolidated thermoplastic sheet was heated, preformed in a mold and immediately overmolded with polyamide. The system produces ready-to-fit components and no trimming is necessary, according to the company.

In addition, the product developers at ZF adapted the layer structure to the component load when designing the brake pedal. This enabled the component weight to be reduced by around 30% compared to conventional steel brake pedals—without impairing load-bearing capacity.

Engel says the control unit of the easix multi-axis robot is fully integrated into the control unit of the injection molding machine. As a result, besides making it easy to operate and program the robot, the movements of the machine and robot are coordinated with each other. Since the robot has access to the machine parameters, the gripper can enter the mold area during the opening movement, which in turn reportedly significantly reduces cycle times.

Automation is the key for composite materials to find even wider use in high-volume applications, such as in the automotive sector. Picheta said that at its technical center, the company is constantly looking at ways to develop manufacturing processes that produce high-volume parts but with low unit costs.

“Automation is not easy and new development is needed as there is more demand out there for mass production and to have fully automated cells,” Picheta said. “Automation will be a big part of the future.”

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

23. March 2015

Another JEC Europe show (March 10-12) has come and gone and CW was there every step of the way reporting on the largest trade show for the industry. Click through our slideshow to see some of the latest products, innovations and just plain cool technology that was seen on the show floor. Check it out here: http://www.compositesworld.com/slideshows/slideshow-scenes-from-jec-europe-2015

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

18. March 2015

Hexion featured at JEC Europe this Bakelite thermoset cam carrier reinforced with carbon fiber, developed with Ford Motor Co. and WGS Global Services.

The composites industry’s largest trade show, JEC Europe, was held last week (March 10-12) in Paris. It was, as usual, big and busy and full of interesting technologies, products, innovations, rumors, heresay and speculation. CW was there, as usual, to cover the event. You can find our initial report on the show in the News section of the CW site, and in the May 2015 issue of CompositesWorld. In the meantime:

Known knowns: As dynamic as the composites industry is, there are some givens at a show like JEC that seem difficult for exhibitors to avoid. For instance, there was the usual assortment of high-end sports, production and racing cars, designed to attract attention and demonstrate exhibitor capability of some sort. There was also a healthy collection of aerospace parts of all types — structural and interior. Indeed, aerospace and automotive were the two end markets most referenced at the show, which makes sense given the prominence they hold for composites fabricators.

Mubea Carbo Tech featured the Volkswagen XL1, which has a resin transfer molded monocoque.

The big question on many lips was this: Will composites take of in automotive, and when? The consistent answer was: Yes and 2020-2025. The thinking seems to be that automakers and their Tier 1 suppliers are in the midst of sorting out resin, fiber, processing and application options, with an eye toward implementation in the early part of the next decade. This makes sense given some of the big questions that must be answered by automakers, and none is bigger than that of carbon fiber supply. If an automaker decides to apply carbon fiber to a vehicle on the same scale as BMW has with the i3, fiber supply must be guaranteed. Establishing that guarantee is no small task and might require an automaker to establish partnership of the type BMW created with SGL Group. Meanwhile, many resin and machinery suppliers appear to be developing and proving new fast-curing/short-cycle technologies that they hope will soon find a home in a high-volume automotive manufacturing environment. So, mark your calendar for 2020-2025, but you’d better use a pencil.

Cytec introduced new BMI and epoxy versions of its DForm tooling prepreg, offered in 24-inch by 24-inch multiply tiles for faster, more efficient layup.

Known unknowns: After a nice decade-plus long run developing materials and equipment for four very large aerospace programs (Airbus A380, Boeing 787, Airbus A350 XWB, Boeing 777X), major suppliers to the all-important aerospace industry appear to be asking the same question: Now what? These aircraft programs consumed much attention and resources for a very long time — so long, in fact, that the largesse had become the status quo. However, with the A350 XWB now in service, the supply chains for these programs have been indefinitely fixed. Even the re-winging of the 777X, which will feature carbon fiber composites, has seen its supply chain established and locked down. And while there are a few aero programs on the margins that offer nice work packages (i.e., Sikorsky CH-53K, Bombardier CSeries, Irkut MS-21, etc.), there is no major aero program on the horizon. Beyond the horizon, lurking, are the redesign of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, but the year most frequently associated with such programs is 2030. And even if they do come to pass, where and how composites might be used on these single-aisle aircraft is an open question.

Ingersoll Machine Tools' Mongoose fiber placement machine was used to layup this AgustaWestland helicopter tailskin in a honeycomb core construction.

Unknown unknowns: One under-appreciated feature of the composites industry is it’s highly dynamic nature. As someone who came from outside the industry, I understand well that the mix of resin, fiber, tooling and manufacturing processes employed by composites fabricators almost guarantees rapid innovation and fast change. This means that there are composites applications still in their infancy, or yet to come to life, that could one day become dominant — or more dominant. Offshore wind blades, pressure vessels, and oil and gas structures spring to mind.

If JEC is a snapshot of the health of the composites industry, it must be pronounced robust and growing, perhaps in adolescence and still trying to figure out who and what it is. But with a promising future ahead.

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

6. March 2015

Port Angeles, Washington is no stranger to composites. Situated on the Olympic Peninsula, the area is home to Angeles Composite Technologies, Inc. (9,290 m2), a supplier of carbon-fiber parts for Boeing and Bombardier aircraft and longtime composite yacht builder Westport Yachts’ Port Angeles Shipyard (9,290 m2). Of course, Port Angeles is 2.5 hours northwest of Seattle and directly west of Everett, home to production of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, featuring all-composite fuselage and wings, and also the upcoming 777x which boasts the longest composite wings to date.

Having recently written an article on carbon fiber recycling, and understanding both the great need and potential for composites’ future, I was surprised to see a recent press release that described the CRTC’s steps to outfit its 2,323 m2 facility, in preparation for relocating and housing Peninsula College and spinning up operations. I hadn’t even heard of the CRTC.

Jennifer States is the Business Development Director for the Port of Port Angeles, the entity which owns the CRTC property and is supporting its vision and development. “Of course this began as an economic development initiative,” States explains, “but now we see an ever larger part we can play in the advancement of composites manufacturing by making it more environmentally friendly and sustainable.” States explains that the Port of Port Angeles had been working to pull together a composites consortium to pursue R&D opportunities. “In all of the conversations we had with our industry partners, recycling kept coming back as a huge need,” says States. The composites consortium that included the Port of Port Angeles applied for a grant from the US Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Technologies for Clean Energy Manufacturing program. Although they did not win that, industry interest in establishing the CRTC and the overall viability of the approach resulted in the Port of Port Angeles proceeding with development, including pursuit of new funding opportunities.


The Composites Recycling Technology Center will initially focus on gathering scrap carbon fiber prepreg materials and process them for reuse. SOURCE: CRTC.

States explains that the initial focus is recycling uncured prepreg materials. According to the Washington State Dept. of Ecology, over 900,000 kg of carbon fiber scrap is landfilled annually. She describes, “We’re looking at gathering that material and processing it to make it reusable. Our initial plans are to have refrigerated trucks at our partners’ manufacturing sites where they can deposit the scrap prepreg.” This will minimize prepreg outtime and help to preserve its material properties. She continues, “We will bring the trucks here, sort and then process the material. One form will be strips which can be molded into new products. We are also looking at what can be automated and how to increase the efficiency of the sorting and processing operations.”

Eventually, the CRTC will consider glass fiber prepreg as well as cured material scrap. However, States says the CRTC’s vision is not to compete with the companies currently recycling carbon fiber scrap, such as MIT-RCF (Lake City, SC, US), “but we see synergies with them.” She explains, “We are discussing how to work together and possible R&D projects that could strengthen and expand market pull for recovered products, for example increased fiber alignment.” This is also part of the vision for the center, to pursue R&D demonstrating how to use recycled materials so that companies are more able to take advantage and the industry overall can “close the loop”.


The Composite Recycling Technology Center vision encompasses workforce training and industry education, improving composites’ environmental impact and sustainability and R&D to support composite manufacturing and recycling companies. SOURCE: CRTC.

States details the CRTC’s three mission areas:

  1. Environment — reduce the amount of composite manufacturing waste being landfilled in Washington State, and eventually, nationwide.
     
  2. Economic Development — add jobs and attract new companies to Washington State and the Olympic Peninsula, but also help to make composite manufacturing business more profitable.
     
  3. Education — aid in developing a workforce trained in composite reclamation, recycling and reuse, but also support and perform R&D to keep expanding composites recycling by improving processes and recycled products.

She details, “This will be a multi-use facility, with a full suite of services offered. For example, companies can contract with us to show them how to use recycled materials or they can simply use the equipment here. There will also be incubator space and acreage is available to build out as well as buildings already designed that companies could move into.” In fact, there are hundreds of industrial-zoned acres available at the adjacent Port Angeles Airport and another 2,323 m2 building pad ready for future CRTC expansion.

The CRTC will also house Peninsula College, which is moving into the CRTC facility and partnering in workforce development. “They already have a class on composite recycling,” States notes, “and are looking to build a full certification program.”

“The majority of our partners are from the aerospace industry,” says States, “but we are in discussions with manufacturing operations for other end-use applications as well. The recycled carbon fiber materials will not go back into aerospace end uses but could go into recreational products and perhaps even marine applications. We have a couple of companies from these industries already interested in the recycled products and we are exploring how they could use them.”

For now, States is headed to the 2015 JEC show (Mar 10-12, Paris, France), with an equipment shopping list (see below) and planned discussions with potential additional industry partners. You can find them at the Washington State Department of Commerce booth, 7.3 M63 in the US Pavilion.

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