A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

24. October 2014

At CAMX, RocTool demonstrated the compression molding of a carbon fiber/polypropylene preform supplied by MIT RCF to make a tablet computer case back. 

If you go to a machine tool or plastics trade show, one thing you notice immediately is that every manufacturer of primary machinery (CNC machines, injection molding machines, blowmolding machines) not only has a large booth filled with equipment, but that equipment is also running, producing products and showing the capabilities of the technology and the exhibitor.

At a composites exhibition, however, this is typically not the case. Composites manufacturing is often not conducive to a trade show environment, where resin application can get messy and smelly, especially in open-mold processes.

The evolution toward closed-mold processes might be changing this trend, however. For the last several years, most of the world's major composites trade shows have featured demonstrations of some sort, designed on the one hand to educate attendees about how to use a given process, and on the other hand to sell a product — resin, fiber, equipment, supplies, oven, etc.

CAMX 2014 (Oct. 13-16, 2014) demonstrations proved this trend well, featuring a large, enclosed demonstration booth operated by Composites One and the Closed Mold Alliance. Accompanying this was RocTool, which molded tablet computer cases in its booth, and MarkForged, which proved the capabilities of its 3-D continuous fiber additive manufacturing system. 

RocTool preform, before and after molding.

RocTool, which manufactures compression and injection molding systems that use induction-heated molds for fast heating and cooling, garnered much attention at CAMX, where it molded 0.8-mm/0.03-inch thick tablet computer cases using preforms fabricated with material supplied by Materials Innovation Technology Reengineered Carbon Fiber (MIT-RCF). The preforms featured MIT-RCF's reclaimed carbon fiber nonwoven at 35 percent loading comingled with a polypropylene (PP) fiber. Preforms were inserted into the mold and heated from 150°F/66°C to 420°F/216°C in 60 seconds, followed by a 60-second hold and a 90-second cool-down for demolding. Advantages of the system include cost-effective nonwoven material, thin walls, resin-rich surface due to induction heating, cost-effective PP resin system, fast cycles, minimal warpage and minimal scrap. The mold for the demo was provided by ComDel Innovation (Wahpeton, N.D.).

Composites One technicians demonstrate infusion molding of a carbon fiber/epoxy unmanned aircraft top panel on the show floor at CAMX 2014.

Composites One and its Closed Mold Alliance demonstrated a variety of manufacturing processes, including infusion, resin transfer molding (RTM) and light RTM. Each was setup as a tutorial, designed to help attendees not only see how each process is used, but also understand best practices — where to inject resin on a given part, how to use pumping equipment (supplied by MVP), how to cope with corners and tight radii, and what to expect as a resin front moves through different fabric types and densities. 

MarkForged's Mark One continuous fiber 3-D printer drew steady traffic at CAMX 2014. The machine dispenses polyamide or polylactide resin from one print head, and a continuous (proprietary) towpreg from the other print head. 

MarkForged had almost continuous traffic at its booth, where the company demonstrated the capabilities of its Mark One additive manufacturing (AM) 3-D printer, which produces parts made with continuous carbon fiber in a thermoplastic resin. The Mark One has two print heads, both designed and built by the company. One dispenses polyamide (nylon) or polylactide (PLA) resin, and the second dispenses a continuous towpreg, either carbon or glass (dispensing of aramid fiber is in development). The towpreg is made in a proprietary process: A single carbon filament is coated with a specially developed thermoplastic resin, designed specifically for the printer. The Mark One uses fused deposition modeling (FDM), an extrusion-like process, for placement of resin and towpreg in the flat x/y plane of the part. The company says that the fiber can be oriented, or added selectively only where needed, in the x/y plane, but notes that, at present, vertical, or z-directional, orientations aren’t possible. Each build layer is approximately 200 microns thick. CAMX attendees were clearly enthralled and energized by the technology, which is in its infancy and certainly could prove to be highly distruptive.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

24. October 2014

Composite Panel Systems LLC's Epitome Quality Foundation Walls was one of two CAMX Awards winners, in the category of Unsurpassed Innovation.

The inaugural CAMX 2014 (Oct. 13-16, Orlando, Fla.) introduced to the composites industry a new awards program, called CAMX Awards. Twelve finalists competed for two CAMX Awards, one to recognize collaboration and teamwork in a composite application, and the other to recognize innovation that promises to provide substantial market impact.

On Tuesday, Oct. 14, during the CAMX General Session, Ashland announced the winners of the 2014 CAMX Awards, which, like the show, represented the diversity of the composites industry itself. The Combined Strength Award was given to the NASA-Boeing Composite Cryotank Technologies & Demonstration Team, submitted by NASA Glenn Research. The Unsurpassed Innovation Award was given to the Epitome Quality Foundation Walls, submitted by Composite Panel Systems LLC.

NASA and Boeing worked together to develop an all-composite cryogenic fuel tank for space launch vehicles, which won the CAMX Combined Strength Award. This sub-scale version of the tank was on exhibit at CAMX. The full-size tank is 8.4m in diameter.

NASA worked with Boeing to design, fabricate and test an all-composite cryogenic fuel tank for space launch vehicles. The tank achieved a 30 percent weight savings and 25 percent cost savings, allowing insertion of higher mass payloads to low-Earth orbit and beyond. At the current space launch system configuration of 8.4m/27.6 ft diameter, the composite cryotank could warrant as much as 1,400 kg/3,806 lb of added payload.

John Vickers, NASA program manager for the Composite Cryotank Technologies and Demonstration Team, receiving the CAMX Award.

Receiving the Combined Strength Award was John Vickers, NASA program manager for the Composite Cryotank Technologies & Demonstration Team. “A lot of people worked very hard between government and industry and Boeing and NASA to make this project work,” he told the crowd of more than 1,000 who attended the CAMX General Session and Keynote Tuesday morning. He noted that the tank went a long way toward proving composite capabilities in space launch applications. “We threw a lot at these tanks during testing, and they stood up.”

Glenn Schiffmann, managing member of Composite Panel Systems LLC, receiving the CAMX Award.

Receiving the Unsurpassed Innovation Award was Glenn Schiffmann, managing member of Composite Panel Systems LLC (Eagle River, Wis.). He told the audience that it was two years ago, at the National Homebuilders Show in Orlando, that he first hatched the idea of a composite sandwich panel system designed to replace traditional concrete in residential home foundations. Working with the close support of resin manufacturer Ashland, Schiffmann says his panel system provides easy and fast installation which can be performed by typical work crew, without the time and effort required to pour a concrete foundation. Further, it provides R-16.5 insulation value, integrated stud cavities for mechanicals and inherent damp-proofing. Schiffmann says reception in the building and construction industry to the Epitome Quality Foundation Walls system has been positive so far. He’s working with Ashland and other suppliers to increase manufacturing efficiencies and drive down the cost further and make it more cost-competitive with concrete. That’s within reach, he believes.

24. October 2014

Scaled Composites president Kevin Mickey at CAMX 2014.

CAMX 2014 (Oct. 13-16, Orlando, Fla.) was officially launched on Tuesday, Oct. 14 with a fascinating presentation by keynote speaker Kevin Mickey, president of Scaled Composites (Mojave, Calif.). He was introduced by Kim Howard of Owens Corning, who emphasized the importance of innovation, risk-taking and a collaborative working environment that is represented by Scaled Composites’ success.

Mickey, an engaging speaker who referred to CAMX attendees as the “world’s brightest people,” reviewed the many ground-breaking milestones that Scaled Composites had accomplished since its start in 1982. One of those was the winning, in 2004, of the Ansari X-Prize of $10 million for development of a reusable rocket that could take three persons to space and return safely to earth, with funding from billionaire Paul Allen. With tongue in cheek, Mickey elicited laughter when he said of the X-Prize, "Let me give you one piece of business advice: Do not spend $30 million to win $10 million."

Since winning the X-Prize, Scaled of course has gone on to develop the next-generation low-Earth orbit (LOE) spacecraft for Virgin Galactic. SpaceShipTwo is designed to be carried by WhiteKnightTwo/MotherShip Eve to a high-altitude launch point, from which SpaceShipTwo will release and rocket to LOE with passengers. Virgin Galactic is testing SpaceShipTwo now and will soon begin commercial operations.

Mickey, who reported proudly that he grew up in Mojave, stressed that his company builds “fast” with out-of-autoclave (OOA) technology and eschews “black aluminum.” The company’s latest venture, also funded by Allen, is the development of the Stratolaunch aircraft, an enormous plane with a 385-ft/117m wingspan that will carry and launch a rocket capable of carrying 13,500-lb/6,123 payloads to low-Earth orbit. The first flight of the Stratolaunch behemoth is slated for 2016.

Mickey inspired the audience with his company’s philosophy of finding programs, like Stratolaunch, that excite his workers and make for a fun working environment. He stressed that risk-taking is important: “If you take chances, you might fail, but if you don’t take chances, you’ll never make any progress. Don’t be afraid of taking educated, calculated risks!” The success of Scaled Composites shows that being bold and taking risks, while celebrating results and learning from failures, is a winning combination. Concluded Mickey, “The process shouldn’t be the product — stop talking and start doing.” 

21. October 2014

Polystrand's hierarchy of value associated with waste re-use.

At the recent CAMX show in Orlando, Fla., I got the chance to experience being on the podium side of the show. I was asked by session leaders Mark Janney of MIT RCF and Dr. Brian Pillay of the University of Alabama at Birmingham to participate in a Green Composites track, with the focus on recycling and re-use of composites. I was asked to speak on the topic of life cycle analysis (LCA), based on an article I had written for CompositesWorld.

For my part, I relied on my previous research for that article, and revisited the sources I had spoken to originally to make sure no significant changes had occurred in the interim, while adding new information. The experience was a little terrifying, but ultimately, illuminating, because it made me appreciate the amount of thought, discussion, experimentation, analysis and sheer hard work that the other session participants went through to prepare their technical papers and presentations. The Green Composites session on Thursday in Room 222A at the Orange County Convention Center personified a whole lot of research and development investment, directed at tackling the fairly intransigent problem of recycling of composites, particularly thermoset composites. Here are some highlights from a few of the presenters.

Being able to recycle production waste and end products was one of the primary reasons that Ed Pilpel, the president of Polystrand, launched the thermoplastic material company a decade ago, as a subsidiary of thermoset fabricator Gordon Holdings Inc. Citing the “abandoned boats in the backyard” as an impetus for addressing composite waste and adopting a more sustainable business model, his presentation, “Continuous Fiber Thermoplastic Composites and Recycling Alternatives,” included an interesting graphic (above) that clearly illustrates a hierarchy of value associated with waste re-use. He went on to discuss a project undertaken with the Materials Processing Applications Development (MPAD) center at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB), where an experiment was designed to test sample plaques made with Polystrand waste tape material mixed with new nylon resin. Tapes were chopped or shredded and mixed with dried resin, at varying fiber volumes, and then compression molded. While the experiment showed some unexpected variations in strength and modulus of the molded test plaques, depending on how the scrap material was handled and molded, nevertheless it proved that it is possible to collect and, with some value-added preparation, create a new molded product — the trick is finding a viable end user for the product, and maintaining consistent part quality.

Presenter Pete George of Boeing touched on some of the major themes of composites and recycling, with his presentation entitled “Challenges to Successful Implementation of Composites Recycling, and Suggested Solutions.” There’s no question that carbon fiber composites use has grown dramatically over the past three decades, and George showed an interesting slide, with fossil fuel use on the Y-axis and flight distance on the X-axis, that clearly illustrated that with more flight miles, transport aircraft made with carbon composites burn significantly less fuel over time, compared to traditional aluminum craft. The striking life cycle efficiency of carbon composites justifies its use in aerospace, and the performance requirements of aerospace composites in turn justifies the use of stiffer, stronger grades of carbon, with a higher price premium. He also pointed to data that show that the energy needed to recover carbon fiber is one-tenth that needed to make new, virgin carbon fiber. That energy savings, coupled with the higher properties of aerospace fiber, would seem to make recycling of Boeing’s, and other aircraft OEMs’, carbon fiber waste streams a logical endeavor.

And, George backed up that conclusion with data generated with partners MIT RCF and RTP Co. Several types of reclaimed fiber were included in the study, including dry intermediate modulus carbon fibers recovered from textile scrap by MIT RCF, and T800 fibers derived from toughened carbon prepreg scrap using a pyrolysis process. When these short yet high-performance fibers are compounded with thermoplastics in a range of fiber loadings, testing shows superior performance compared to conventional injection molding compounds. That is, the recovered aerospace carbon fiber waste performs better than virgin standard modulus carbon fiber in typical molding compounds, which certainly offers an incentive for recycling these wastes. And, said George, at low loading levels of 10 to 20 weight percent, the waste carbon compounds can compete with 30 percent glass-filled compounds on a performance basis, offering the potential for a 12 to 14 percent weight reduction in a part. He cautioned, however, that current methods for recovering fibers from prepreg and cured laminates, in particular pyrolysis, tends to reduce fiber performance and the resulting “fluffy” fibers aren’t easily conveyed and metered during compounding. So, much more needs to be done in the area of economical fiber recovery as well as waste material segregation to isolate these high-performance wastes.

Why not make composites easier to recycle from the get-go? That was the message delivered by Rey Banatao of Connora Technologies, in his presentation, “Recyclable by Design: A Chemical Approach to Recyclable Epoxy Composites.” His company has developed high-performance epoxy curing agents called Recyclamines that can be combined with any di-epoxide molecule in standard part processing. The chemistry creates “cleavage points” in the molecular chains, so that the cured thermoset can be broken down, in the presence of an acid compound, into a reuseable thermoplastic. Reinforcements can be recovered without damage in their original form and easily recycled.

And there was much more covered during the session, all aimed at addressing ways to get composites recycling up and running. So how did all of this tie into my LCA presentation? Well, if we can calculate the energy embodied by composites, and the impacts they cause, throughout their entire life, and if we can use recycled content to help mitigate those impacts and reduce that energy, composites start to look pretty “green” compared to our competition, usually steel and aluminum. Life cycle data can prove that composites represent a sustainable material choice because of their high strength and lower weight throughout their useful life. 

Posted by: Steven Rodgers

8. October 2014

Figure 1: 3D Predictive Data Analytics (3D PDA) allows  for valuable trending analysis (courtesy of NLign Analytics).

Editor’s note: Composites industry veteran Steven Rodgers, principal of EmergenTek LLC (South Jordan, Utah, USA), has been working with NLign Analytics (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA) on composites processing data collection and management strategies. Today’s CW Blog is penned by Rodgers and explores the upside of good data management. Included, here and at the end, is a survey he and NLign Analytics are conducting regarding process data collection.

Costs. Most would agree that they are the curse of the high-performance composites industry. Alas, as demand goes up, so does the price of carbon fiber composites. Worse, many companies grapple with how to remain profitable while meeting their customers’ cost targets. What do you do when, to cite a recent case, your customer demands a 15 percent cost reduction…just for you to remain on their bidder’s list?

Forget your lean and Six Sigma programs. You have already squeezed as much as you can out of those tubes. So where do you turn to cut the remaining fat? Thankfully, there maybe a way out. Consider that in the course of everyday manufacturing you already collect an enormous amount of process data. Could that data be rescued from your storage files and be put to better use?

We slavishly collect all that data — on incoming material properties, certificates of conformance, bag leak checks, cure charts, NDI scans, material out times, dimensional checks, process metrics, key characteristics, ply-by-ply orientation data — ultimately to gather dust in the files. Once we verify conformance and the part is on its way to the customer, we lock that data away in a file cabinet and save it, often for decades.

Would you be surprised to learn that when we simply archive data we may be guilty of locking away one of the most valuable diagnostic resources available to us? Much of that data embodies the potential for valuable trending analysis if we only knew what to look for and why. This is represented by an emerging discipline known as 3D Predictive Data Analytics (3D PDA).

For example, let’s say you have a part that has always passed non-destructive inspection (NDI) without rejectable porosity. Suddenly it exceeds the acceptable standard. The part is either rejected or sent to the material review board (MRB) for disposition.

Is this an anomaly, or is it the result of a trend that we have failed to identify? If this failed as the result of a worsening trend, then there is a reasonable chance that you will begin to fail more parts for the same reason. If not, perhaps you are in good shape.

But you just don’t know. You don’t know because we as an industry have never appreciated the possibility that applying 3D PDA to our NDI data might identify trending data that can spot a potential failure before it happens. In our manufacturing environment, anything that is not a failure goes on to the next operation with little concern. But if we were to analyze the NDI data pre-failure, looking for trends, we might have a huge impact on company profitability.

According to a recent McKinsey & Co. report, “In manufacturing, operations managers can use advanced analytics to take a deep dive into historical process data, identify patterns and relationships among discrete process steps and inputs, and then optimize the factors that prove to have the greatest effect on yield.”1

When you consider the cost of failure, the skilled use of 3D PDA may allow companies to recover as much as 10 percent of their gross revenues. They avoid discrepancies that are perceived as simply being “part of the process.”

Case Study: Data from the past predicts future failure
When dealing with high-performance, anisotropic materials like composites it is important to know what the laminate looks like on the inside. From “kissing disbonds” to porosity, NDI techniques are used to help us look at the continuity of a part or assembly. In the process, tremendous amounts of data are produced toward one end: To demonstrate that the part is functionally sound.

The key to the 3D PDA software’s success is its ability to quickly crunch terabytes of data, a chore that is far too big and cumbersome to be done manually using spreadsheets or other simple tools. Once the software has done the homework, it presents the results visually in a clear, concise way.

Here is an example of how Spirit AeroSystems (Wichita, Kan.) was able to use historical data to reduce scrap and rework. There is a move in the industry to produce larger, increasingly complex co-cured assemblies in order to reduce part and fastener count. As a result, the cost associated with the risk of discrepant hardware goes up exponentially. One such assembly at Spirit AeroSystems was chosen to apply 3D PDA to accumulated NDI data to see if any trending data might emerge.

All of the parts that had been scanned to date had been within acceptable limits. The company took the data from the last 15 ship sets of assemblies and overlaid the data onto the digital part model (Fig. 1). Distilling and analyzing more than 7 terabytes of data in just a few minutes, the results showed that one area of the assembly had been developing porosity in one specific location. With each ship set the porosity had been increasing, but with the sheer mass of data being collected with each scan, no one had noticed. Why? Because every part had been within the acceptable limits.

However, that was about to change. The trending data indicated that within a few more ship sets the assembly would exceed the allowable level of porosity and would become discrepant. A quick investigation revealed that a leak had been developing in one of the tools required to build the assembly; the leak was repaired before it jeopardized the hardware. Given the cost of the assembly and the accumulated costs of failure, the total savings from this one exercise was many times greater than the cost of the software.

Other companies have achieved similar savings by employing 3D PDA to avoid discrepancies, scrapped parts and the onerous costs of MRB action.

Case Study: A hole by any other name
Another kind of data in which we compile terabytes of largely unused information is dimensional data. We confirm the size, shape, hole patterns and other important elements that apply to configuration. We verify that the part falls within the acceptable criteria and then we lock the information away (again!) without considering that there may be valuable data lurking in it.

Take, for example, another complex assembly. This composite structure (Fig. 2) had already gone through layup, assembly, cure, NDI and all of the required inspections that go with those steps, so it was already a costly assembly. Then it was presented for CNC machining. This tight-tolerance operation went smoothly with no recorded discrepancies during the inspection. In a normal factory, that would have been the end of the story, but in this case the company applied 3D PDA for the first time.

Figure 2: With 3D PDA analysis, the bearings that supported the cylinder were introducing dimensional variability into the process (courtesy of NLign Analytics).

Again, the data from numerous assemblies was collected and applied to the part model. Again, several terabytes of raw data were analyzed. Here is what they found:

The dimensions in the axial direction were well within tolerance. However, the analysis also revealed a different condition in the radial dimensions. All of the holes were within tolerance, but they were approaching an out-of-tolerance condition. More importantly, they were trending toward that condition progressively. Upon investigation, the fabricator found that the bearings that supported the cylinder were introducing dimensional variability into the process. The company replaced the bearings and the holes moved back to the nominal dimensional accuracy that had been documented at the beginning of the program. Once again, a problem had been solved before it actually became a problem.

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has coined the phrase The Digital Thread to describe the heart and soul of what The Economist called “the Third Industrial Revolution.” This industrial revolution is one in which the thread of data from design through manufacturing is used at every step of the process to improve efficiency and reduce overhead costs. It is vital to the progress of the advanced composites industry that we continue to transition from art to science.

Using 3D PDA supports this concept in ways that are not always obvious to people in our industry. As a company begins to identify commonalities in the analyses, that data can be fed back to design engineering or manufacturing engineering in such a way that the design, planning and preparation for the manufacturing of new hardware will be streamlined, more efficient and more trouble free. In the initial instances in which this approach has been used, first-pass yields for new hardware have improved dramatically.

Suddenly an age-old problem becomes much more manageable. Until the advent of PDA the common experience was that of a beleaguered producibility engineer trying to reconcile the manufacturing capability with a part design that had been “tossed over the fence” from engineering. As always, the goal is to consistently and cost-effectively manufacture that part while improving first-pass yields and reliability.

Now 3D PDA provides a vehicle to feed the lessons learned from advanced trending analysis back to the engineering staff so that when future designs are released, many of the manufacturing challenges have already been addressed. Designs become more robust, tools become less troublesome and processes become more efficient. With improved information sharing comes improved manufacturing. Every DR, every MRB action, every scrapped part and every repair that is avoided improves overhead costs.

There is one benefit of 3D PDA that is often overlooked. We all know the importance of risk mitigation in this high value-added environment. We understand how reducing risk can benefit our manufacturing facility and overheads. But do we appreciate the impact it has on our customers?

In nearly every major request for quotation (RFQ) there is a section asking the supplier to address how they intend to mitigate risk on behalf of the customer. The elements of risk mitigation involve the risk of late deliveries, of substandard hardware, of excessive requests for MRB support, of price escalation or a dozen other factors. All of these risks are mitigated by the application of 3D PDA.

According to a Quality Engineer for a major OEM in our industry who has the job of auditing and preparing suppliers for vendor qualification, this is becoming an increasingly important consideration among the primes. With first-pass yields varying from 60 percent to as much as 98 percent, a credible risk mitigation plan can be the distinguishing factor among suppliers competing for work. When the most common tool used for data analysis is the ubiquitous spreadsheet, the use of 3D PDA software presents a powerful statement to the customer that a supplier is serious about continuous process improvement. What is interesting is that the investment in software is usually quite modest when compared to the financial benefits that the software can bring.

These are just a few upper-level examples of the many ways in which 3D PDA has been used to improve the performance of advanced composite manufacturers. As experience is being accumulated by supplier and OEM alike, there are many more applications of the software that are turning up significant opportunities to improve a company’s competitiveness by mitigating risk, reducing overheads and enhancing the bottom line.

We are interested in continuing to build the information base that will allow the industry to develop new software tools and applications. This will support the critical task of bringing the costs down for advanced composites. In order to do so, we are inviting you to participate in a brief survey that will provide information. As a thank you for giving us seven minutes of your time we will send you the results of the survey once they are compiled.

Also, to extend the discussion, we are also providing an in-depth report on how 3D PDA might impact MRB.


1 “How Big Data Can Improve Manufacturing” by Eric Auschitzky, Markus Hammer and Agesan Rajagopaul; July 13, 2014

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