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A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

31. July 2015

On my list of things I hate, tornadoes might be up at the top (along with cucumbers and scary movies). I’m originally from Oklahoma so I’m well familiar with tornadoes. Luckily, during my time there, I actually never saw a tornado in person, but many areas in that state have been devastated by that weather disaster.

So I read with great interest about a new solution that could potentially save lives during tornado storms. But this isn’t your typical storm shelter. These are tornado panels that are integrated into a room in an existing home or brought in as part of new construction.

Developed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the composition of thermoplastic and fiberglass resins and fibers used in the panels are stronger per-unit density than the steel used in many current shelters and weigh 80% less, according to the university. Some of the same foams and fibers are used in the latest armored military vehicles.

The research team developed a steel frame that holds the panels, and the frame can be broken down and carried into a closet or bathroom door and then reassembled. The panels, secured to each other and the floor of an interior room, protect against flying debris and are designed to keep people from being crushed or becoming airborne. The university says that the panels leave the assembly line looking like typical interior walls; they do not require paint and will never corrode.

Installing the tornado panels in the home. (Photo credit: UAB).

Uday Vaidya, professor and chair of UAB’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, worked with Storm Resistant Systems and Cooper Structural Engineers to scale the prototype panels for use in a home. The safe room is designed in accordance with FEMA standards to withstand 250 mile-per-hour winds, and was built to remain intact even if the house were destroyed. This prototype is the first-of-its-kind, and it can be replicated for installation in other homes.

“With an average of more than 1,000 tornadoes recorded in the U.S. each year, it was crucial that something be done to make homes more safe,” Vaidya said. “Those tornadoes result in approximately 80 deaths and 1,500 injuries each year. Our goal was to develop new technology that would help protect individuals against the impact of debris during natural disasters, and I think with these panels, we’ve done just that.”

This installation comes after four years of research, testing, approvals and manufacturing, following the 2011 Alabama tornado outbreak. Following the devastation of those storms, Vaidya and his team of UAB engineers focused their attention on the development of a material that could transform any room into a safe haven. “2011 happened, and the work we were doing, we saw had a lot of applications for tornado-related activities,” Vaidya said. “During a tornado or hurricane, you get a lot of two-by-fours flying in a home; a lot of debris is picked up, and it can actually penetrate inside a house. People die from the debris that comes through the walls or other things, so we built panels that would resist the debris completely.”

Made from discarded liner once used to wrap offshore oil-rig pipes, the panels also embrace green engineering techniques. Recycled materials used in the experimental phase kept thousands of pounds of waste from landfills.

“The UAB panels are unique in comparison to the other products I’ve seen used in that they are lightweight, similar to plywood, but they have the strength equivalent to steel,” said David Cooper, president of Cooper Structural Engineers. “The ease of getting them in and out of a home for installation combined with the strength is what makes these panels a step above other products on the market.”

Moving forward, UAB will work with contractors and engineers seeking to integrate the panels into new construction as well as make them available to individuals who would like to purchase the panels to be retrofitted into existing homes.

It sounds like a great innovation that could save a lot of lives. Hopefully my home state pays close attention to this one.

Here's a video about the panels:

For individuals and businesses interested in learning more about the panels, contact UAB’s Material Processing and Applications Development Center at mpad@uab.edu.

Posted by: Sara Black

29. July 2015

The Chautauqua Belle steam boat plies the waters of Chautauqua Lake on a perfect summer day, still going strong using old technology.

Vacations are wonderful things, offering respite from work and time to reflect. In my case, a family wedding gave me the chance to visit and reconnect with family in what I consider a nearly perfect part of the country, because I grew up there: Western NY state and northwestern PA. It struck me during my trip that old technology was going to be the theme: for instance, while in Pittsburgh, PA for my nephew’s wedding, I learned that our hotel in Southside was built on the site of a former steel mill. An old, huge iron vessel used in steelmaking had been unearthed during construction of the area, and was on display. Later, while boating on Chautauqua Lake, NY, US, I saw old technology in the form of the steam boat Chautauqua Belle, a fixture during the summer. I went back to my high school days, and spent time with old classmates. One, a farmer with long experience in agriculture who now raises beautiful draft horses on his farm, showed me old mill wheels he had unearthed nearby. He’s thinking of putting them to use to stone grind organic wheat, truly a centuries-old craft. I mused aloud about being about as far away from composites, CW magazine and high technology as I could be.

Then, one of my former classmates (himself a genius) mentioned that CW should write about a guy known to all of us, who grew up in the area, who, turns out (which I didn't know), is a brilliant researcher and the CEO at EngeniusMicro (Atlanta, GA, US). (Engenius has been acquired by Stanley Assoc. [Arlington, VA, US], which was in turn acquired by CGI [Montreal, Canada]). Dr. Michael Kranz, who got his Ph.D. at Georgia Tech in the field of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), has researched and developed micro-sensors for a wide array of applications, including structural health monitoring of composites. Here’s a sentence lifted from his Georgia Tech dissertation: “The objective of this research was to develop arrays of microfabricated capacitive resonant acoustic sensors, using electret materials [permanently polarized dielectric materials] as a permanent voltage bias, for the spectral decomposition of acoustic pulses such as those seen during impact events.” His company performs design and simulation of MEMS and nano-scale devices, in addition to developing fabrication process flows and performing device characterization. It looks at nano-scale developments related to environmental sensing devices, energy harvesting systems, and miniature energy storage components. Rapid prototyping using 3D printing is part of EngeniusMicro’s toolbox, as is additive manufacturing, assembly, and characterization.  Here’s a link to the company’s Projects page: http://www.engeniusmicro.com/projects/

Pretty high-tech stuff from a guy who grew up in rural Western New York, among the dairy farms, draft horses, mill stones and steam boats on the lake. 

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

22. July 2015

Sikorsky's composites-intensive CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter, which is in the pre-production development phase, will become a product of Lockheed Martin product with Lockheed's acquisition of Sikorsky.

There were three significant acquisitions announced this week, each with direct or indirect relationship to the composites industry:

It's hard to say exactly how these acquisitions might play out from an aerospace business perspective, but each one does give composites observers something to think about.

The news about Hitco might be the biggest head-scratcher. The Gardena, CA-based fabricator, which until this week was owned by Germany-based SGL Group, has been on what appeared to be a well-managed growth curve for several years, winning work making parts for Boeing's 787 and Lockheed Martin's F-35, among others. The last couple of years, however, have seen Hitco's profile diminish and fade, and soon we were hearing reports that SGL wanted to divest the company. Indeed, SGL reported on Monday (July 20) that the agreement to sell Hitco to Canada-based Avcorp "will result in overall negative proceeds of US$47 million, which consists of payments to Avcorp, repayments of customer advance payments as well as costs relating to various services to the benefit of the buyer." Hitco clearly has the potential to return to health, but Avcorp will have its hands full making it happen.

Composites Horizons (Covina, CA, US), which specializes in fabrication of composite parts and structures for high-temperature applications, had seemed well-placed as part of AIP Aerospace (Santa Ana, CA). AIP's other holdings include Ascent Tooling Group, Coast Composites, Odyssey Industries (Lake Orion, MI, US) and Global Tooling Systems (Macomb Township, MI, US), so its divesture of Composites Horizons to Precision Castparts comes as a modest surprise. The appeal of Composites Horizons from Precision Castparts' perspective is understandable: Precision Castparts is, primarily, a fabricator of metal aerospace parts, with some composites manufacturing capability. Composites Horizons gives it, suddenly, substantial composites expertise. 

The Lockheed Martin acquisition of Sikorsky is notable to this industry primarily because of the volume of composite materials involved. Lockheed Martin is already assembling the F-35 Lightning II fighter, and has several tiers of suppliers around the world fabricating composite structures for that craft. The acquisition of Sikorsky adds to the Lockheed portfolio a massive rotorcraft manufacturer that is using composites substantially throughout its products — in old ways and new. Of particular interest is the in-development CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter, which features composites in the fuselage, blades and other strucdtures. If Lockheed Martin has not bitten off more than it can chew with the Sikorsky ingestion, then Lockheed Martin stands to become an even more important player in the composites marketplace. 

In any case, each of these three deals will bear careful scrutiny over the next few years to see how they evolve and develop. As the saying/"curse" goes: May you live in interesting times.

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

15. July 2015

RUAG Automated Potting Machine for honeycomb panel inserts

I attended the JEC Americas 2015 show, June 2-4, in Houston, TX, US. Though it was a small show, I can always find new developments in composites and companies I have not seen before that remind me of why I love working in this industry.

Cevotec team Cevotec advances the Fiber Patch Placement process Carbon fiber bike saddle made using Fiber Patch Placement

Cevotec exhibited various parts made with Fiber Patch Placement at JEC and Hannover Messe, including a carbon fiber composite bike saddle. SOURCE: Cevotec.

In the Innovation Awards section, Cevotec (Garching bei München, Germany) was recognized for its further development of the patented Fiber Patch Placement (FPP) technology (see “Airbus A350 Update: BRaF & FPP”) it has licensed from Airbus Group (previously EADS Innovation Works, Ottobrunn, Germany). According to Cevotec, FPP enables automated production of advanced carbon fiber products. It increases mechanical performance by load path-optimized fiber orientation, saves material scrap and process time by net shape 3D preforming and guarantees highest part quality by online camera control. A spinoff from Technische Universität München (Munich, Germany), Cevotec was founded in Feb. 2015 by Yannick Blössl, Thorsten Groene, Neven Majic and Felix Michl. The company exhibited at JEC Europe 2015 (Mar 10-12, Paris, France) and at Hannover Messe (April 13-17, Hannover, Germany). A video of their process can be seen below and also here. Check back next week for a more detailed blog based on my upcoming  interview with Cevotec’s founders.

RUAG Space (Zurich, Switzerland) was recognized for its development of a new insert which allows automated placement into composite sandwich panels for satellites, significantly reducing production time and cost as well as panel weight. The inserts are used for attaching equipment such as instruments or sensors, with more than 25,000 used in a typical communications satellite. Until now, all of these have been installed manually.

RUAG Automated Potting Machine RUAG Automated Potting Machine close-up
RUAG Space has developed an Automate Potting Machine (APM) which drills holes, applies special adhesive and locates inserts into honeycomb-cored panels. SOURCE: RUAG Space.

RUAG’s innovation comprises the insert itself, the positioning process and the newly developed Automated Potting Machine (APM). RUAG’s APM cuts the panels, drills holes for the inserts, applies specially designed adhesive to the new insert and puts it in position. Automation of the insert process has been demonstrated to work reliably in industrial applications.

Cetim has developed the Quilted Stratum Process Triangular automotive bracket made with QSP

The Quilted Stratum Process automates layups to deliver net shape preforms as part of France's national high-volume production line for composite parts.
SOURCE: Cetim and Pinette Emidecau Industries.

Cetim (Technical center for the mechanical industry, Senlis, France) was lauded for its innovative Quilted Stratum Process which automates layup to deliver net shape preforms ready for subsequent molding and assembly. Resulting from a partnership between Cetim, Pinette Emidecau Industries (Chalon sur Saone, France), Loiretech (Mauves-sur-Loire, France) and Compose (Bellingnat, France), this and the subsequent Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) module are the first two pieces of the French national high-volume production line for composite parts whose goal is to develop “seamless” — i.e., from fiber to finished product — production of carbon-fiber thermoplastic composite parts and hybrid composite parts with a cycle time of approximately one minute. This “national” tool is supported by a broad set of stakeholders, including Arkema (Colombes, France), Faurecia (Nanterre, France), PSA-Peugeot Citroën (Paris, France), Renault (Boulogne-Billancourt, France) and Solvay (Brussels, Belgium), as well as various universities and technical research centers.
    The Quilted Stratum Process reportedly achieves the goal of high performance, low cost and short cycle time simultaneously, including:

  • Production of variable thickness parts with customized multi-layer orientations;
  • Use of multiple fibers and polymers from hybrid pultruded tapes;
  • Cycle time from 40 to 90 seconds including preform fabrication, heating, transfer and  thermoforming/overmolding for high volumes;
  • Competitive production economics within the additional cost limit of €5/kg saved.

The Quilted Stratum Process partners imagined the concept two years ago and now provide an automatic production line ready for developing and producing industrial prototypes for the Automotive and Aerospace markets.

OOA fairing for UAV made with BMI and ATL

This UAV fairing is reportedly the first to use ATL BMI prepreg with
ROHOCELL foam and OOA cure. SOURCE: CompositesWorld.

Evonik ROHACELL (Essen, Germany), Raptor Resins (Celina, TN, US), Hexcel (Stamford, CT, US) and Spirit AeroSystems (Wichita, KS, US) received an award for out of autoclave (OOA) Advanced Tape Placement of bismaleimide (BMI)/IM7 carbon fiber prepreg and ROHACELL HERO polymethacrylimide (PMI) structural foam core for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fairing.
    The part was manufactured using Raptor’s OOA BMI-1/IM7 prepreg with fiber areal weight of 145 g/m2 and resin content of 32%. Spirit AeroSystems performed the automated tape laying (ATL) with 0.25-inch wide slit tape placed over 71ROHACELL HERO core, followed by curing in an oven. According to the partners, this is the first time a BMI part has been made with ATL and OOA cure, and also the first use of ATL with ROHACELL foam core.

Bullray amphibious UAV Bullray UAV uses quasi-isotropic CF rapid molding compound Bullray UAV can be a tri-, quad- or penta-copter

The Bullray is reportedly the first fully autonomous, amphibious, waterproof and portable VTOL tri-copter which uses quasi-isotropic molding compound to produce its CFRP fuselage in less than 5 minutes. SOURCE: Rapid Composites and CompositesWorld.

Rapid Composites, based in the Sarasota, FL area, was applauded for its Bullray amphibious, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system (UAS). Reportedly the first fully autonomous, amphibious, waterproof and portable VTOL tri-copter, the Bullray’s fuselage can be molded in less than 5 minutes using quasi-isotropic carbon fiber molding compound and Rapid Composites’ proprietary high-speed and automated molding equipment. The Bullray can be optionally configured as a quad- or penta-copter and at 8 kg without payload, is easy to transport via shoulder sling (push button folding booms). The Bullray also uses patented pitch carbon fiber pin-fin and airfoil heat sinks for rapid heat transfer and longer high-performance in-flight service.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

13. July 2015

Mustafa Sahmaran, professor at Gazi University, tests the performance of healed ECC specimen under mechanical loading. Image courtesy of the American Concrete Institute. 

It’s no secret the human body can do some amazing things. If you cut your hand, it will heal automatically. Right after you fall and skin your knees, your body is already working to repair the wound. Our bodies are designed to heal from small wounds on its own. And it turns out, we share that characteristic with concrete. The world’s most popular building material can self-heal its own small wounds (aka cracks) as an intrinsic characteristic.

However, unlike the human body, cracks do not heal easily in conventional concrete due to its brittle nature. And this is where Engineered Cementitious Composites (ECC) look to come in. ECCs are based on an advanced material technology first proposed by Victor C. Li from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Unlike the conventional concrete materials preferred in most field practices, ECC, which has reinforcing microfibers smaller than human hair, is relatively ductile in tension. Ductility is a direct result of strain-hardening response due to the formation of multiple closely spaced microcracks with average widths of less than 100 micrometers. Even under excessive loading conditions, crack widths reportedly remain constant.

“Having cracks with widths at micrometer levels allows us to add special attributes such as self-healing to ECC material,” said Mustafa Sahmaran, professor of civil engineering and director of the Advanced Infrastructure Materials Research Laboratory at Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey.

The concept of self-healing materials isn’t new, however, there’s been a recent interest in the technology of these materials due to the deteriorating infrastructures found around the world.

Sahmaran says that the process of self-healing in ECC materials is quite straightforward. Cracks heal themselves with the help of two main mechanisms: ongoing hydration reactions of anhydrous cementitious materials resulting in further calcium-silicate-hydrate gels and calcium carbonate precipitation. What is needed for these two reactions to take place is abundantly available for structures located anywhere in the world: water and air.

“Despite the effectiveness of self-healing in ECCs with micron-size cracks, some critics question the ‘robustness’ of the mechanism,” he said. “One such robustness criterion is the ‘repeatability,’ or multiple reoccurrence of crack closure. The other criterion is the ‘pervasiveness, meaning that the mechanism should take place all over the structural element rather than being restricted to certain areas.”

Sahmaran and his lab team, in cooperation with Mohamed Lachemi from Ryerson University in Canada sought an answer to the question of robustness of the self-healing mechanism in ECCs. The verdict? They believe they can prove the relatively high robustness of self-healing in ECC.

 “Even after six repetitive pre-cracking occurrences from the exact same place, each one almost causing specimen failure, ECC material can recover by 85% depending on the test method utilized in the evaluation of self-healing rate,” said Gurkan Yildirim, research assistant and Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering at Gazi University. “Self-healing rates recorded from different sections of specimens also confirm that results are very close to each other, meaning that the mechanism is rather pervasive. On top of that, ECC material does not sacrifice the intrinsic tight microcracking behavior, so that after the application of pre-cracking from the same place up to nine repetitive times, maximum crack width is restricted to a 190 micrometer level, which also leads to superior durability characteristics, even under harsh environmental conditions.”

The researchers say that with its inherent tight microcracking and self-healing behavior, ECC could become the material solution to many mechanical and durability property challenges and can help prolong infrastructure functionalization.

The team's research appeared in a paper entitled “Repeatability and Pervasiveness of Self-Healing in Engineered Cementitious Composites,” which was published by the ACI Materials Journal.

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