A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

15. April 2014

RocTool demonstrated its 3iTech high-speed composites molding technology at
JEC (right) powered by two 50kW induction generators (left), which it also produces.

RocTool (Savoie Technolac, France) is an anomaly in the composites industry, not because of its astronomical growth — from revenues of $700,000 in 2010 to $7 million in 2013 — or its previous 10 years of R&D without revenues, but because it has truly achieved innovation in high-speed composites production — now claiming a mold heating world record of 60° to 160°C (140° to 320°F) in 5.3 seconds — and has succeeded, against all predictions, with its technology licensing business model, one which is difficult even for Microsoft. It is accomplishing all of this with a headquarters-based core staff of 30.

Founded in 2000, RocTool has 80 patents in 20 technology families with roughly 40 licensees worldwide, mostly major OEMS and Tier 1 suppliers. It astutely anticipated the opportunity in consumer electronics and via Taiwan-based licensee Ju Teng, now boasts use of its technology in one of the world’s largest smartphone and tablet parts factories in China, outputting around 10,000 parts per day. It also claims license agreements with five of the world’s top 10 manufacturers of 3C products (computers, communication and consumer electronics).

In fact, RocTool and Ju Teng were recognized, along with partner Complam (Taichung, Taiwan), with the JEC 2014 Innovation Award in Consumer Electronics, presented to Motorola Mobility (Libertyville, Ill., USA) for its MotoX and Ultra products. The MotoX rear housing is a molded polycarbonate (PC) composite reinforced with thermoplastic polyester (PET) fiber featuring a high-quality surface finish while the Ultra employs a 3-D unibody from the same composite but with Kevlar fiber added. The JEC award claims that combined production for both models exceeds 50,000 units per day.

RocTool was included in a second Innovation Award, this one to Expliseat (Paris, France) for its new Titanium Seat, claimed to be the lightest commercial aircraft seat on the market, weighing 4 kg (9 lb) per passenger place. The design, qualified for Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft, features titanium and composite tubes and uses RocTool’s 3iTech molding system to process TenCate (Almelo, The Netherlands) TC1100 polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) unidirectional composite tape reinforced with HexTow AS4 12k carbon fiber from Hexcel (Stamford, Conn.).

RocTool President Alexandre Guichard predicts the company's bespoke licensing agreements will number 100 within five years. However, he claims growth for its own sake is not RocTool’s priority, but instead it is focused on profitability first, and then technical support for worldwide licensees, including plans for subsidiaries in Germany and Japan as soon as possible.

In RocTool's CAGE system, inductors (right) are positioned in two halves outside of the mold (left). They form a cage when electrically connected, instantaneously heating only the tool surface at a very rapid rate.  CAGE is ussed for high-temp production of complex shapes (e.g., part at bottom). SOURCE:  RocTool

RocTool’s intellectual property (IP) strength comes from very fast heating and cooling via induction heating, seen in its Cage System and 3iTech technologies.  In the Cage System, inductors are positioned in two halves outside of the mold, forming a cage when they are electrically connected. At this instant, the tool surface and only the tool surface heats rapidly. Cage is touted for production using high temperature, complex shapes and molds with moving features. 3iTech also uses inductors but placed inside the mold, similar to heating cartridges, but much faster and with a fraction of the energy consumption. Again, heating is within seconds and is for molding using localized or one-side only heating, seen especially with parts needing cosmetic and high-quality surfaces. RocTool also sells its induction generators, which range in power from 50kW to 300kW and may include cooling devices and automated remote control.

RocTool's 3iTech system uses inductors placed inside the mold,
again heating in seconds, but offering localized or one-side only heating
for parts requiring cosmetic surface finish. SOURCE: RocTool

RocTool demonstrated its 3iTech technology at JEC Europe (Mar. 11-13, Paris, France) by molding boomerangs from three different material combinations:

  • Flax/polypropylene (PP)
  • Recycled carbon fiber/glass fiber/PP CoDEP (fibers and thermoplastic co-deposited into a felt-like material) from MIT RCF (Asheville, N.C., USA)
  • Glass fiber/ Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) from Bond-Laminates (Brilon, Germany).

The standard 100-ton press by Wabash MPI (Wabash, Ind., USA) achieved induction heating via copper coils inside the mold fed by two 50kW high-frequency induction generators, one for the top mold and one for the bottom. The molds could be heated and cooled — using a typical water system at 20°C (68°F) — from 50° to 400°C (122 to 752°F) and molded the boomerangs in 2.5 minutes. This type of system could be easily adapted for tools up to the size of an auto hood and has made cell phone parts. When asked about the timeframe from licensing to production, RocTool explained that engineering typically requires 2 to 4 weeks, followed by a few months for the mold tools to be fabricated and then a few weeks to establish production at the licensee’s site — i.e. less than six months for a simple, single-site installation.

RocTool demonstration of 3iTech molding technology with 2.5 minute cycle time at JEC Europe. SOURCE: CompositesWorld

RocTool has perhaps another trump card to play, an advantage few others in composites seem to offer: high-speed production using hybrid materials. Its technology and expertise spans composites, plastics and metals. Guichard gave an example in that Samsung and LG prefer “all-plastic” tablet and phone bodies while Apple and Lenovo have favored metal. In automotive, Volkswagen has avowed a hybrid approach including all three materials but favoring none. Guichard notes that metal has certain advantages but it is difficult to achieve fine thicknesses without extensive and costly surface finishing operations. He asserted that RocTool would have no problems finding customers for a technology which could produce metal parts less than 1mm (.04 inch) thick and a cosmetic surface quality. Perhaps that is one of their 10 dedicated R&D programs. In any case, there is little doubt that much more is to come from this small powerhouse with an ever-increasing global reach.

Posted by: Mike Musselman

14. April 2014

Materials data for UHT Unitech's carbon fiber.

The carbon fiber market, once the relatively unchanging — not to mention unassailable — preserve of a small, elite group of fiber manufacturers, is in the midst of a massive sea change. The advent of the Boeing 787, Airbus A350 XWB and other commercial aircraft with composite airframes forced Japan's Toray, Teijin and Mitsubishi Rayon (all based in Tokyo) and U.S.-based Hexcel (Stamford, Conn., USA) and Cytec Industries (Woodland Park, N.J., USA) to commit to capacity increases that, previously, had been viewed as patently insupportable because of the enormous capital investment. Zoltek (St. Louis, Mo., USA) — at long last — and DowAksa (Instanbul, Turkey) joined the club, with commercial-grade fiber, aimed at wind and transportation markets — especially, hoped-for automotive applications.

When the realization of the vertically integrated SGL/BMW carbon fiber supply chain for its i3 and i8 electric cars silenced many doubters, the stage seemed set: SGL's commisioning of its carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, Wash., USA, stimulated a round of partnership announcements between fiber producers, auto OEMs and others interested in repeating the carbon fiber aerocomposites windfall in the world of autocomposites (see, for example, "Ford, Dow join forces to research carbon composites for production autos").  And a flurry of announcements by new carbon fiber sources: Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia),  Hyosung (Gyeonggi-do, Korea), Alabuga Fiber LLC (Tartarstan, Russia), to mention a few. The once exclusive club has become a larger and more competitive fraternity.

Given all that, the rumor of yet another new PAN-based carbon fiber manufacturer wasn't high on CW's "must see" at this year's JEC Europe event in Paris. In fact, the rumor proved untrue. But CW found that the subject of the rumor, carbon fiber converter UHT Unitech Co. Ltd. (Zhongli, Taiwan), proved unexpectedly intriguing.

Established in 2011, UHT Unitech offers not a new fiber but a graphitization service for composites fabricators who purchase T700-grade PAN-carbon fiber from existing manufacturers. Unitech’s president, Ben Wang, gave a presentation at JEC, describing the company’s business model. Briefly, Wang’s process unspools PAN carbon fiber (3K to 48K) purchased from other sources, burns off the factory-applied sizing, then graphitizes it in Unitech’s — and here's the intriguing part — Wang's patented 2000°C/3632°F microwave ovens. Processed fibers are resized (Wang says he specializes in sizings compatible with thermoplastic resins for sporting goods and industrial applications) and re-spooled.

The result? Wang quips that “no one believes it” but he says he can deliver  T800- or T1000-grade fiber at 15 to 30 percent lower cost, because his microwave technology reportedly consumes 30 percent less energy and processes fiber 50 percent faster than conventional graphitization ovens. Further, he claims his process generates no water or air pollution. But most compelling, he claims that test results conducted by the Taichung, Taiwan, branch of independent testing organization SGS SA (Geneva, Switzerland) indicate that his UT30S and UT1000 products are roughly equivalent to the high-end fibers now on the market (see chart). Wang goes farther: Graphitization by conventional means, he says, typically increases the modulus (stiffness) but slightly degrades fiber strength. He claims, however, that his microwave-based process not only increases fiber modulus by 20 to 30 percent but also adds 2 to 5 percent to its strength.

Wang says he’s working with interested parties in the composites manufacturing community, both inside and outside Taiwan. And he says his technical team also works with customers to adopt and adapt UHT Unitech's fiber in their manufacturing processes. Wang offers help, for example, by formulating both prepregs and injection-moldable thermoplastic compounds for use in sporting goods and industrial applications. 

Currently capable of producing a total of 300 metric tonnes (roughly 661,380 lb) of fiber per year, UHT Unitech isn't a big threat to the "bigs" in the carbon fiber market. In any case, Wang says he has no intention of threatening anyone: He emphasized that he’s not planning to engage in spinning or carbonization of raw PAN fiber. More importantly, he would he happy to partner with carbon fiber manufacturers who are interested in adopting his less-expensive microwave process for their high-tonnage lines. 

It's important to point out, here, that microwave technology is not new to the composites industry. In 2009, no less than GKN Aerospace (Isle of Wight, U.K.) acquired a Hephaistos microwave curing oven from heating systems specialist Vötsch Industrietechnik GmbH (Reiskirchen-Lindenstruth, Germany). GKN’s experience has shown that microwave technology consumes about 80 percent less energy than a comparable autoclave, with a 40 percent savings in cycle time (see "Microwave: An alternative to the autoclave?"). 

Given all the excitement surrounding massive production line expansions and new players in the  carbon fiber sector, a UHT Unitech could — but should not — go unnoticed. The perennial cry — particularly from the auto industry — is that cost of carbon fiber is the principal deterrent to its widespread application in volume production. A technology that might reduce carbon fiber cost by double-digit percentage points is probably worth a look.

Ben Wang, president, UHT Unitech.



Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

9. April 2014
Composites make up ≈50 percent of latest commercial airframes,
but further expansion is far from guaranteed.
SOURCE: Chris Red, Composites Forecasts and Consulting

Christian Ruckert, head of Research & Technology Integration for Materials and Processes at Airbus (Toulouse, France), gave a presentation at SAMPE Europe (Mar. 10-11, Paris, France) in which he cautioned against thinking that the recent steep growth in composites usage on commercial aircraft will continue unabated.

What has changed?
Ruckerts says that in 2013, Airbus R&T planning was split between 75 percent disruptive technology approaches and 25 percent quick wins. For 2014, this changed to 40/60 and is headed toward 30/70. Thus, Airbus wants performance improvements from new technology but without excessive costs. For example, Ruckert says that changes in materials and/or structures “have to pay off in terms of weight and cost reduction” and now must “be realized within a quite short amortization period of two years maximum.” He adds that this will be difficult for composites due to required modifications in work flow, jigs, tools and new manufacturing processes. Thus, the cost to develop and implement new composites technologies on upcoming aircraft will have to be much lower than what we have typically seen with recent models.

Ruckert said that Airbus R&T funding is now production-driven, so that projects must succeed in being part of a specific platform’s downselected options or they will not be pursued. Engineering development will be clustered around existing airframes and major changes will only be implemented if specific critical factors are met.

Expansion of composites in Airbus airframes will be affected by how the OEM looks at the next platforms in its pipeline. As shown in the graph below, the majority of new aircraft entering production over the next decades are single-aisle/narrow-body, which do not value weight savings as highly as wide-body models. According to Ruckert, “Development of a brand new single-aisle aircraft is not considered a top priority” for Airbus right now. That also does not favor composites' expansion any time soon, as there are less opportunities for new materials on step changes to current models vs. clean-sheet designs. Another challenge in narrow-body aircraft is the high manufacturing rates. Ruckert cited up to 60/month for the A320neo. These put more pressure to have a dependable supply chain, without risk of late part deliveries or quality issues. Ruckert also said that  nondestructive testing (NDT) cannot continue to be a bottleneck (e.g. 100 percent visual inspection required after each ply layed by an automated machine, during which layup is stopped).


New commercial aircraft Entry Into Service (EIS) timeline.
SOURCE: Leeham Company, LLC

Meanwhile, Ruckert reported that the three pillars of qualification documentation — design, manufacturing and support (e.g. inspection and repair) —  are almost complete for a selective laser sintering (SLS) material, which will give Airbus the ability “to print any part cargo to cabin”. He said titanium additive layer manufacturing (ALM) is also very mature with an NDT process and the triplet documents in place. There is still a gap in design and stress analysis, as well as certification, but ALM is already flying and has a technology readiness level of TRL6. A form of polymer ALM is also close to flying.

Ruckert said that both ALM and Glass Laminate Aluminium Reinforced Epoxy (GLARE) will see growth in future aircraft. He noted that GLARE was used on the A380 and then dropped off, but recent changes in automation make it lower cost vs. straight composites. New metal alloys are also changing the traditional cost and weight competitive analysis vs. composites.

R&T for cost, manufacturing and robustness
All of that said, Ruckert believes composites will have a place in Airbus structures and may even be able to widen their scope, but only if cost, manufacturing and robustness develop as required. He listed the following as key areas for composites R&T at Airbus:

  • Multi-functional structures:  adding new functions, such as enhancing lightning strike protection (LSP) via automated coating or improving fire,smoke and toxicity performance via a cabin interiors part integrated with structure.
  • Automation for the realization of large-scale composite structures including fast and reliable inline inspection and remote NDT systems during manufacture.
  • Structural health monitoring (SHM) for smart engineering. Airbus is working with Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI, Tokyo), Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI, Kobe), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI, Tokyo), Tokyo University and Japan’s Material Process Technology Center (SOKEIZAI Center in Tokyo) in the Japan Airbus SHM Technology for Aircraft Composites (JASTAC) project to mature this technology for production aircraft.
  • Out of autoclave (OOA) bonded structural repair to achieve cobonding of a soft patch (not precured) using vacuum compaction only.

In the March issue of HPC, Chris Red asserts that composites' best shot at growth in commercial airframes is via OOA development in The Market for OOA aerocomposites, 2013-2022.

Editor’s Note: In 2003, Christian Ruckert was a team leader for the Composite Technology Materials & Processes Department at Airbus, handling all technology projects. He was appointed as head of local composite technology at Airbus Bremen in 2005, with responsibilty for textiles and infusion technology, CFRP and metal bonding and sandwich structures. As head of R&T Integration for Materials & Processes, Ruckert assumes responsibility on all R&T related subjects. He was also nominated as technology product leader for the development of technologies for a second generation CFRP fuselage.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

9. April 2014

The cover story from the April 2014 issue of Wired magazine is an interesting exploration of the role of coal in the world's energy future. Provacatively titled, "Renewables aren't enough. Clean coal is the future," the story, written by Charles C. Mann, points out that, like it or not, many countries (particularly China and the U.S.) still rely greatly on coal for energy generation; Further, despite the promise of wind, solar, and hydro, none of those technologies is ready to replace coal. Mann goes on, as well, to explore carbon capture systems (CCS) for coal-fired power plants and argues that CCS is a global necessity in order to make coal palatable from an environmental perspective. The article is a highly pragmatic assessment of the global energy situation and, as such, has provoked much feedback — positive and negative.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Congress raised a few eyebrows this week when it proposed to reinstate several federal tax incentive programs, including the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC). (See our PTC news story for more information). The PTC has been around for years and offers wind farm developers a tax credit for every kilowatt-hour of energy generated. The PTC has been credited for much of the wind energy growth seen in the U.S. over the last decade, and the last one expired at the end of 2013. The Senate wants to renew it, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014 and expiring Dec. 31, 2015. A vote is expected later this year.

Looming over both of these issues — our need for coal energy and wind energy tax credits — is an even broader question: How will the cost of energy generation affect society's energy source choices? Since renewable energy systems came online, they've been handicapped by their high cost, but in the last few years wind, solar and hydroelectric energy have become cost competitive, and in some cases (compared to coal, ironically), cost advantageous.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated last year, in its "Levelized Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2013" that, come 2018, wind energy, without the PTC, will cost less than every type of coal-based energy system, and less than some natural gas-based energy systems. 

Of course, it's not enough to be cheaper. The truth is that it would take millions of wind turbines to replace the energy generated by coal-based systems. In addition, as the "Capacity factor" column shows in the above table, the wind does not always blow. And we do not yet have a reliable, large-scale energy storage system that allows us to capture excess wind energy when the wind does blow. Which takes us back to the Wired article and the pragmatic need now, and and for many years to come, for coal-based energy systems.

Renewables offer much promise and hope for a cleaner energy future, but for now much of the world must continue to live and cope with the reality of coal.

Posted by: Sara Black

7. April 2014

The Vickers Wave seaplane is a true composite, built from an aluminum primary structure surrounded by a carbon fiber hull.

The current bright spot in general aviation, according to a March 30 online article by Dan Johnson of General Aviation News, is light-sport aircraft (LSAs, see the original article here: Johnson says that as LSAs approach the end of their first decade this summer, 134 models have already been created and gained FAA acceptance, an impressive pace that represents more than one new design every month for 10 years running.

In 10 years, LSA have morphed from ultralight or light kit aircraft into a fleet of modern and capable aircraft manufactured under industry consensus standards. In 2014 it is becoming clear that the LSA industry is embarking on a new level of achievement; some of the most intriguing of these, says Johnson, are seaplanes.

Icon stimulated the market for these advanced ships with fresh ideas and creative engineering. A team from Scaled Composites (key participants in the creation of SpaceShipOne and many unique aircraft) joined Icon to produce the A5. The Southern California company reportedly has more than 1,000 aircraft orders. While Team Icon works to assemble a manufacturing system, other seaplane designs are coming into view. In addition to several proven designs, including Searey, Super Petrel, SeaMax and Mermaid that are all presently accepted by FAA as Special LSAs (SLSA), Freedom, Aventura, and Atol are also in the mix (a review of most of these can be found at

Yet among LSA seaplanes, the next generation wave is building and Johnson expects additional designs to emerge this year. Among them are some of the most technically sophisticated flying machines in the entire LSA space.

Consider this: The Lisa Akoya, Icon’s A5, the Vickers Wave, and one other unidentified company have all secured substantial funding from Chinese investors. They join such notable aviation enterprises as Cirrus Aircraft, Continental Motors, Flight Design, Superior Air Parts and others in securing Chinese investment. In the case of the LSA seaplanes, the investors are not taking over the companies and appear primarily focused on the China market, says Johnson.

Lisa’s Akoya, priced near $400,000, is a unique design that in some ways attempts to surpass Icon’s A5. Both are flying at present, but neither has gone to the conforming prototype stage, according to Johnson (see the CompositesWorld blog about Lisa Airplanes dated 1/31/14).

The groundbreaking Wave from Vickers Aircraft in New Zealand has reportedly received funding from Chinese investors, which could accelerate its seven-year-old design project so that it can take to the skies this summer.

Wave (pictured) has several popular characteristics, such as powered folding wings, sliding doors, enough aft cabin space to allow a four-seat design in the future, and specialized landing gear involving as many as seven wheels. Wave’s “Cross-Over” landing gear does not need to be retracted, which eliminates some weight and reduces pilot workload. The gear pivots enough to aid crosswind landings on hard surfaces.

Wave is a true composite, built from an aluminum primary structure surrounded by a carbon fiber hull. As parts go together in prototype number one, Vickers said all parts are matching the weights as predicted by state-of-the-art computer design software.

As with every design since the Wright brothers’ first biplane 111 years ago, the proof of design will be found in the flying, but Wave, A5, Akoya, and others yet to be identified are showing the LSA seaplane subcategory to be a fountain of engineering prowess.

See the original article here:

« Prev | | Next »

Subscribe to these Related
RSS Blog Feeds

Channel Partners