A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

26. May 2016

The carbon fiber wheel manufactured by Australia-based Carbon Revolution reduces unsprung wheel mass by 2 lb per wheel compared to the aluminum wheel that comes standard on the Ford GT supercar.

Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI, US) says the carbon-fiber-bodied Ford GT will offer an all-new carbon-fiber wheel, further improving the drive and handling characteristics of Ford’s all-new supercar.

Ford GT is the second Ford Performance vehicle to offer carbon fiber wheels – following the world’s first mass-produced carbon fiber wheel application that debuted as standard equipment on the 2015 Shelby GT350R Mustang.

Unlike the Shelby GT350R’s black-painted carbon fiber wheels, Ford GT wheels will be offered in two finishes – either matte or glossy clearcoat. The finishes match the two exposed carbon finishes available on the sills, fascia and extractor of the supercar. The wheels are manufactured by supplier partner Carbon Revolution (Waurn Ponds, Australia).

“Ford was the innovator as the first to offer a mass-produced carbon fiber wheels as a standard offering on Shelby GT350R Mustang,” says Dave Pericak, Ford Performance global director. “Now, Ford GT will offer the next generation in carbon fiber wheels, with an advanced resin and fiber technology that gives our designers more freedom, while also showcasing the structure of the material’s weave.”

Carbon fiber wheels offer a wealth of advantages over traditional aluminum wheels, including weight savings, improved vehicle dynamics and ride quality. Beyond simply reducing overall vehicle weight for improved acceleration, braking and dynamic performance, carbon fiber engenders a reduction in unsprung weight and rotational inertia, which benefits suspension action, ride quality and dynamic performance.

Ford GT.

The Ford GT arrives standard with 10-spoke forged aluminum wheels, sized 8.5 by 20 inches/front, and 11.5 by 20 inches/rear. The optional carbon fiber wheels on the Ford GT are the same size, but are structurally stiffer, and save more than 2 lb of unsprung weight per wheel. Compared to the already light standard wheels, this weight savings reduces inertia by a notable 25%.

Ford notes that a lighter wheel requires the suspension to do less work to control the hardware attached to it, and improves consistent contact with the road surface, improving traction and driver control. Each spinning wheel also acts like a gyroscope, so a lighter wheel can improve steering feel and dynamics as it requires less energy to accelerate or turn the wheels, improving vehicle response. Vehicle efficiency is improved as less energy is required to get the wheel spinning.

Ford says that while metal wheels can act like a bell, the dense, inert nature of carbon fiber provides for overall improved performance in terms of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) and a quieter ride – leading to greater comfort.


Posted by: Jeff Sloan

26. May 2016

Massive spools of Airborne Oil & Gas' thermoplastic composite pipe.

Thermoplastic oil and gas pipe specialist Airborne Oil & Gas (IJmuiden, The Netherlands) says the Libra consortium has invited Airborne to perform a failure mode, effect and criticality assessment (FMECA) for a thermoplastic composite pipe (TCP) Riser that could be used at the giant Libra field offshore Brazil. The request followed a successful feasibility study (preliminary version) performed by Airborne Oil and Gas and Wood Group Kenny, that showed a 45% reduction in top tension in a cost-effective riser solution, using a hybrid riser design comprising of the conventional flexible pipe (used for the top and bottom riser-sections) and the TCP section inserted at the mid-water depth.

Henk de Boer Ph.D., engineering manager Airborne Oil & Gas, says, "We are independent in our material choice and select the right material for every application. In this case, we assessed three different composite materials in the riser design and optimized it for installation, fatigue, top tension and pipe cost. Interestingly, the most cost effective riser solution turned out to be the technically best performing as well."

Airborne says the TCP Riser solution (provided for the full riser length) could offer significant benefits in deep water riser applications: first, the lightweight TCP Riser reduces the top tensions up to 50% (as compared with the conventional flexible pipe), reducing the weight loading on the floating, production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel. Second, says Airborne, the TCP Riser itself is a simple monolithic wall pipe; while still flexible, it is inherently simple in its design leading to a cost effective solution for deeper waters.

Airborne Oil & Gas is the world's first manufacturer of Thermoplastic Composite Pipe (TCP) to have qualified its design, production and materials in compliance with the new DNV Recommended Practice for Thermoplastic Composite Pipe, DNVGL RP F119. The FMECA will be conducted in accordance to this recommended practice. 

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

26. May 2016

Surface Generation Ltd. (Oakham, UK) has developed technology that combines hardware and software to provide a ‘digital molding environment’ where precise thermal management enables massive reductions in energy consumption, cycle time and processing pressures. Termed PtFS, for Production to Functional Specification, this technology enables ‘pixelated’ temperature control up to 1,000°C and improved processing of even the most complex applications spanning thermosets and thermoplastics, all types of reinforcements including carbon fiber, and embedded electronics as well as metal and glass combinations in a variety of processes, including injection and compression molding.

The PtFS technology uses a fluid stream (typically air) flowing at variable rates through the mold, which is divided into multiple regions, like pixels, to heat and cool dynamically during cure using digital control. SOURCE: Surface Generation.

“We’re working with companies who are looking for step changes,” says CEO Ben Halford. “It might be in rate or reduced thickness or complexity. Basically, anyone who is dabbling with temperature and pressure.” Halford says PtFS has a very wide range of applications. “We’ve applied our technology to titanium, gorilla glass and polyurethane foam. And, of course, to composites. Mostly we work with manufacturers who are trying to break through established limits.”

Halford explains that PtFS dramatically improves temperature uniformity across the mold surface, which yields improved matrix viscosity control in the mold cavity. Enhanced viscosity control in compression and injection molding facilitates atypical process conditions such as reduced wall thickness (lighter components), elimination of weld lines/sink marks, aggressive adjacent section thickness changes and the use of high reinforcement volume fractions. Halford adds that PtFS does all of this while reducing press clamp, fill and closure pressures, because the input material temperature profile is no longer driven by the coldest, thinnest portion of the mold cavity. “Without digital control, you are essentially flying blind at processing. We offer far greater visibility.”

Injection Molding Case History — Increasing Fiber Content from 30% to 50%
Halford describes a recent injection molding project using a compound with 30% long-fiber reinforcement: “Just with good temperature control we can take that to 50%. But what we’re doing is not just limited to temperature control.” He says that the typical process comprises injecting a liquid material into the mold and applying a lot of holding pressure to counteract shrinkage from cooling. “We don’t do that. As soon as the tool is full we start solidifying back from the melt front to the injection gate, so you don’t have to worry about the shrinkage.”  PtFS digital approach to mold tool control enables a pixelated view of the molding process that a traditional analog, isothermal approach doesn’t allow.

Halford asserts this process control enables Surface Generation to break through limits, for example in consumer electronics. Halford describes, “It is typical for manufacturers to use a 500-ton injection molding machine with accumulators, firing the liquid compound in like a cannon shot. But that fast rate is degrading the material, breaking down the long molecular chains. We can mold the same part with a 120-ton machine, mold it even thinner and with better properties.” He notes this also has economic benefits, “It costs $50/hr less to operate this smaller machine vs. the larger press.”

Using PtFS with an Engel injection moulding machine, Surface Generation reduced injection pressures by 75% and achieved strength and quality improvements in components trialed for large consumer electronics and automotive manufacturers. SOURCE: Surface Generation

Case History #2 — Solution to Warping in Laptop Cover
In another project, Surface Generation worked with a company producing a composite laptop cover, what is called an A-cover, which was very thin and flat with an embossed logo in the center. “The cover was a membrane strength design susceptible to deformation,” Halford explains.  “Also, the fiber volume changed in the area of the logo. It was resin-rich around the logo, but fiber-rich inside the logo.”

Straight out of the press, the part stayed flat for a minute, says Halford, “but as it started to cool, it turned into a potato chip because of residual thermal stress.” He says what is needed is to cool the center first. “Say the press is at 200°C, you need to make sure everything arrives at 70°C at the same time but to do this you can only start cooling the outside when the center  reaches 170°C – this way the whole part cools down to ambient without any stress.” He points out that the corners cool the fastest because they lose heat in two directions, while the edges cool next, losing heat in one direction and the “landlocked” center cools the slowest. “If you then throw any shape complexity into the mix,” warns Halford, “you could easily increase from three natural thermal zones to as many as 12, resulting in a much more complex thermal landscape.” He returns to the whole composite cover at 200°C: “Any isothermal approach cooled the corners first, the edges were still warm and the center was still hot. Part size is now locked while the middle is trying to shrink so when the center finally cools, you end up with residual stress.”

Using its proprietary software, Surface Generation programmed in business rules to drive PtFS pixelated temperature control and ensure that the center cooled at the same time as the edges and corners. “In fact, we treated the upper and lower tool surfaces differently, thanks to the digital control. Now, when you take the part out, everything is the same temperature and there is no residual stress in the part.” Yield increased from 75% to 95%, which is a pretty huge when the production volume is 200,000 parts/year.

Case History #3 — Thermoplastic Aerospace Components
Applying this pixelated approach to thermoplastic PEEK class aerospace primary, secondary and tertiary structures also yields considerable cycle time, energy consumption, capital equipment and quality benefits.  Invar autoclave tools have been retrofitted to become free-standing, self-heated and self-cooled out-of-autoclave (OOA) cells capable of processing large-area, single-skinned or stiffened skin panels with cycle times of less than 2 hours at temperatures up to 450°C.  The fact that the mold skin can be pre-heated can also be used to aid lay-up, bonding and, where required, achieve localized repairs.  The same approach can also be applied for thermosetting systems with carbon epoxy or BMI mold faces.  Matched PEI molds can similarly be outfitted with PtFS to produce net shape components from 1 to 25mm thick with pre-forming and consolidation cycle times of less than 1 hour.

Controlling Material Properties
Halford also notes that having localized control also allows crystalline or semi-crystalline thermoplastic polymers to be manipulated in ways that conventional isothermal approaches cannot. “We can cool at a very high rate, e.g. 1250°C/min, so that we can bypass a phase change,” Halford explains. He notes the material should be semi-crystalline, "but we can make specific areas amorphous so that the part is effectively flexible in some areas and stiffer in others. Think of a hinge.”  

“It’s a combination of the hardware and software with pixelated control to manipulate geometry that you simply can’t achieve in any other way,” Halford summarizes. He notes there are also cases where parts have thickness that varies from 2 mm to 25 mm, producing wrinkles due to differential cooling. “You must manipulate those points with differing heat and cooling profiles to eliminate the issues.”

“We can also control the flexibility in polyurethane foam,” says Halford. “It is poured as a homogeneous mix. We will change the temperature and cooling rate locally to create a different reaction rate which gives a different cell size, resulting in different properties.”

Why would you want to do this? To incorporate dissimilar materials and/or electronics into a part using injection molding, compression molding or vacuum bagging. For example, a glass plate or an LED. “These can now survive the process,” says Halford. “So instead of having secondary operations, you can do it all in one shot. This provides incredible new design freedoms.”

PtFS is used to made a wide variety of parts, including for applications like these.
SOURCE: Surface Generation.

Wide Range of Applications
Halford says Surface Generation is now having these discussions with industrial design teams in consumer applications. “We are working with very established OEMs but also new, disruptive companies who are not attached to any one process, but are quite willing to work from a clean sheet. For example, ‘What is the limit of a material with respect to thickness? How far can you push thin-ness?’ If you think about objects worn by consumers, this becomes very important.”

“We are having our busiest year in aerospace yet,” says Halford. “We’re seeing a lot of traction also in intelligent devices and systems integration, wearables, consumer electronics and integrated electronics.” He says Surface Generation is also working with large resin companies. “For example, say you have a 2-minute snap-cure system but want to get to cure times of 30 seconds or less. We can do that using our new Multiplexing process.”

Surface Generation will be presenting “Advanced Compression & Injection Molding of Complex Components from Neat & Reinforced Thermoplastics” at the upcoming Thermoplastic Composites Conference for Automotive (TCC 2016), co-located with the amerimold expo (June 15-16, Novi, MI, US).

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

24. May 2016

VABO Composites uses resin infusion (center) to build a wide range of composite products from ship doors (left) to architectural structures (right). SOURCE: VABO Composites.

VABO Composites (Emmeloord, Netherlands) was started by director Arnold Vaandrager in 2001, with several small marine projects. It proceeded to various applications for fishing vessels, including replacing metal storage boxes with composites. But the local fishing industry slowed significantly, forcing Vaandrager to look for new opportunities. “We have had to excel in what is difficult for others to make,” he notes. The company now completes a range of diverse projects, from industrial to marine to architecture, in a 3,000-m2 facility with a corps of 15 senior composites technicians and managers that scales up to 40 workers during large projects. Using mostly resin infusion, RTM Light and some wet layup, VABO has its own in-house design and materials & process engineers as well as fast tool fabrication using a CNC milling machine.

click square in lower right corner to enlarge video

Composites enable this palletization machine to move more quickly, maintaining its tons/day productivity even though the number of bags to be stacked increased by 400%. SOURCE: VABO Composites.

The company has made composite antennas positioned on top of cars for on-location news crews, fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) shovels for front-end loaders and lightweight manipulator doors/valves for a fast-moving palletizing machine. “This is the part of the machine that positions bags of potatoes or onions on a pallet,” explains Vaandrager. VABO replaced a 60-kg steel part with one made from composites weighing only  16kg. “The industry had changed from 10 kg bags to 2.5 kg bags,” he recalls, “so the machine had to speed up to maintain its current tons/day stacking rate, but it was too heavy to move that fast.” With composites, VABO was able to help the manufacturer maintain productivity, yet still provide strength and durability in the parts.

VABO Composites won a 2015 JEC Innovation Award for this composite front-loader bucket, which reduces weight up to 35% and enables greater volumes of materials to be moved vs. steel buckets. SOURCE: VABO Composites.

In 2015, VABO won the JEC Innovation Award in the Heavy Machinery category for its composite front-loader bucket, along with its Netherlands-based consortium partners Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR, Amsterdam / Marknesse), Institute for Composite Development (Instituut voor Composiet Ontwikkeling or ICO, Emmeloord) and construction equipment manufacturer Kuiken (Emmeloord), as well as materials supplier Gurit (Wattwil, Switzerland). ICO is located in the same building as VABO Composites and performs feasibility studies and engineering tasks for VABO.The original request to replace a steel front-loader bucket with a composite prototype came from Compoworld, an initiative of various stakeholders within the Netherlands composites industry, including the national government. With NLR as program leader, two different prototype buckets were produced: one at NLR in Marknesse, and the other at VABO Composites.

Testing in 2014 revealed that the composite buckets could move greater volumes of dirt and sand than was possible with a conventional steel bucket. Equipment users could therefore complete the same amount of work using fewer bucket loads. The up to 35% weight reduction could also lower fuel consumption and cost. The bucket is referred to as a "hybrid" because some parts, like the interface to the machine and the wear plate, remained in steel because switching these to composite did not add sufficient benefits. VABO began production of the hybrid bucket-loader in 2015.


Mastery in Marine Masts
VABO has also become a specialist in the design and construction of large radar masts for superyachts, like the 10m mast on a vessel launched earlier this year. Normally built from aluminum, VABO cut weight by 30% using composites. This is key, as the lighter weight up high lowers the vessel’s center of gravity, improving its stability. The FRP structure also saves on maintenance cost, eliminating the need for repainting due to its excellent corrosion resistance in a salt-water environment. VABO begins the multi-part assembly with pre-engineering, then proceeds through final engineering and design freeze, at which point it will begin CNC machining molds. All of the parts for this 10m mast were resin-infused using stitched glass fabrics and vinylester resin. The separate pieces were then adhesively bonded and mechanically fastened together. “We deliver a complete mast with the exhaust system integrated in the interior,” says Vaandrager, “so the builder has everything needed to install the integrated module.”

VABO makes resin infusion and large composite assemblies look easy as it builds this 10m tall superyacht mast complete with integrated exhaust system. SOURCE: VABO Composites.

VABO is now working on a 12m mast, made from infused carbon fiber and epoxy resin for increased weight savings. The project also includes the yacht’s canopy, or top deck, which will be produced as one piece. The multi-piece mast will be bonded using Gurit’s Spabond epoxy adhesives. The weight savings target for this mast will be 40-50% vs. aluminum. All of the mast’s engineering must be reviewed by Det Norske Veritas (DNV, Høvik, Norway), Lloyds Register (London, UK) or Bureau Veritas (BV, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France), depending on which classification society the yacht owner and builder have chosen for certification. “These masts typically take 6-7 months to complete after engineering is complete,” says Vaandrager. Fabrication for this latest project should be finished by the end of 2017.

Artistry in Architecture
VABO Composites has also become an expert in special projects for building and architecture end-uses. “We handle the whole project,” says Vaandrager, “starting from someone’s drawing on a piece of paper, to design and engineering, organizing the permits and 3D printing scale models so they can see and feel the parts.” Once the engineering is completed, VABO proceeds through molds, fabrication, assembly and installation.

VABO Composites used resin infused composites to realize CM3’s design for aesthetically-appealing canopies in the HUBS shelters from Emmen’s downtown parking to its city center zoo. SOURCE: VABO Composites, and Rogier Bloemers Twitter feed.

VABO recently completed the HUBS series of nine visually attractive shelters from rain and sun along the boulevard between the parking plaza and zoo in the city center of Emmen, Netherlands. The organic-shaped canopies, built from infused glass fabrics, feature computer-controlled color-changing LED lights for nighttime appeal. “The challenge in this project was to maintain the canopy size and shape as the designer wanted,” Vaandrager recalls. “The canopy ‘leaves’ taper at the edges, which leaves restricted thickness for fitting the LED lights.” He notes that permitting on most projects is also difficult, because very few people in the building and infrastructure industry know about composites.

The Stratford Shoal sculpture uses thin composite shells clad with titanium to form its 73 leaves. SOURCE: VABO Composites. (For more info, see DeZeen magazine's article.)

The success of HUBS follows earlier architectural projects like five 9m x 3m suspended shells for a jewelry exhibition at the Louvre and 73 titanium-clad FRP leaves for “The Stratford Shoal”, a 250m titanium sculpture at the Stratford Centre in London. Developed to camouflage an aging shopping center and car park, the sculpture was installed prior to the 2012 Olympics. The leaves were manufactured from a thin FRP shell over a plywood structural frame, made from three molds to give three varying forms. VABO used a vacuum infusion molding process. The leaves were finished with titanium sheets, anodized to display as shades of green, yellow and silver.

High Fit and Finish in Commercial Production
Now VABO is pursuing commercial production of its Accedoo composite ship doors and hatches. (See CW’s APPLICATION story “Full steam ahead for composite ship doors and hatches”.) VABO uses an insert in the infusion mold for the hinge so that it is covered with gel-coated composites for both aesthetics and durability. The parts also come out of the aluminum molds completely finished.

SOURCE: VABO Composites

Due to its new developments in certified composite ship doors and hatches, and also in the composite bucket loader, for which it won the 2015 JEC Innovation Award along with its partners, VABO Composites was voted as the winner of the Flevo Innovation Medal 2016.

See more videos from VABO at

Posted by: Sara Black

17. May 2016

Stratasys is introducing a new sacrificial 3D printed tooling solution, on display at RAPID and SAMPE Long Beach.

You may remember my article in CW magazine about a year ago (here’s the link: about how additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is becoming more common in the aerospace tooling realm. Fixtures, prototyping tools and even production tooling can be made quickly and on-demand, which helps the tooling industry keep pace with accelerating composite part design cycles and demand for faster overall part processing speeds. CW is seeing many examples of this, including a blog posted this week by Jeff Sloan about Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and its progress in this area (here’s a link:  

Solid evidence of this tooling trend can be found at the RAPID show (happening now, this week, in Orlando, FL, US) and the upcoming SAMPE Long Beach event next week, at the Stratasys booth (at RAPID, Booth 1014; at SAMPE, booth I32). Tim Schniepp, who is the Composites Tooling director at Stratasys, shared some insight with me regarding projects his company is involved with that will be on display at the both exhibitions. The first is a 3D printed sacrificial or trapped tooling solution. Using a new material that the company calls ST-130 together with a patent-pending “alternative fill” printing pattern, the trapped, washout tooling is designed for rapid build speed, fast dissolution, and high quality that can be autoclaved. The material and process were used to create a tool for Swift Engineering that allowed production of a complex hollow engine inlet duct (see photo), which will be on display. The president of Swift Engineering, Rick Heise, says “Stratasys-produced composite tools allow us to develop products much faster without compromising quality or performance of the parts.”

This ULTEM 1010 tool for Dassault can stand up to autoclave pressures and cure temperatures.

Secondly, Stratasys has launched a comprehensive design guide, entitled “Design Guide for FDM Composite Tooling,” that lays out the best practices for design, fabrication and preparation of 3D printed composite tools that can be used to cure composites at temperatures exceeding 350 °F and pressures of 100 psig, says Schniepp, when ULTEM 1010 resin material (supplied by SABIC, Pittsfield, MA, US) is used for the build (FDM is fused deposition modeling). Stratasys 3D printed composite tooling using ULTEM 1010 enables manufacturers to produce high temperature (>350°F), autoclave-cured composite structures in a fraction of the of time that traditional metal tools require, while also providing significant cost savings.  Schniepp will present a technical paper at SAMPE regarding the design guide, entitled “Design Guide Development for Additive Manufacturing of Composite Tooling” on Thursday, May 26 at 10am, room 102 B, and the company will also host representatives from Dassault Falcon Jet at SAMPE to showcase and display their tooling design solutions for parts on the Falcon aircraft. “We developed the Design Guide to provide our customers with the ability to immediately realize the immense time and cost-saving benefits of FDM composite tooling without the effort and expense required to develop the knowledge independently,” says Schniepp.

To further assist customers, Schniepp says that Stratasys now offers an Acceleration Kit for its Fortus 900 printing machines, aimed at producing large tools. A larger extrusion tip and upgraded software package allows faster material laydown rate for faster builds. The acceleration kit is intended for ULTEM 1010 and ASA polymer materials. 

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