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A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

14. July 2016

The carbon fiber pilot production line at Oak Ridge National Laboratories
(ORNL, Oak Ridge, Tennessee) has provided fertile ground for the development of technologies that are helping make carbon fiber manufacture more efficient and less expensive. (Photo from Harper International
Pilot Line in operation at ORNL)


RMX Technologies (Knoxville, Tennessee) has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to proceed with commercialization of its patented plasma surface treatment (PST) technology, working with ORNL and C. A. Litzler.

This project is in addition to work RMX Technologies already has in process regarding use of its plasma oxidation in carbon fiber manufacture. The plasma oxidation technology is expected to reduce oxidation energy consumption during carbon fiber manufacture by as much as 75%, and overall carbon fiber production costs by 20%.

Surface treatment is the third major step in carbon fiber production and plasma surface treatment will allow customers to modify the surface of carbon fiber so that less expensive plastics can be used to make parts. This technology should also allow parts makers to use less fiber per part which also reduces the cost of parts. In addition to those benefits the technology could replace a wet chemistry process that produces much more waste and is inherently more troublesome.

CW spoke with Truman Bonds, vice president of R&D at RMX, about the technology:

CW: How does the plasma technology function to treat the fiber surface? Is it used in conjunction with chemicals or compounds?
Bonds: Yes. The user would have the ability to apply unique chemical functionality on the fiber surface. The process is in the gas phase and the combination of feed gas and plasma chemistry achieves the desired effect.

CW: Does the plasma system allow for the application of different types of surface treatment? If so, how?
Bonds: Yes. An advantage of plasma surface treatment over traditional wet bath methods is flexibility. The user can rapidly change the type of surface treatment in the control interface by switching feed gases and plasma conditions. These changes could be pre-programmed and plumbed in so the switch is easy and fast.

CW: You mention that this system allows carbon fiber to be treated/sized for use with “less expensive plastics.” What types of plastics do you mean? Commodity thermoplastics?
Bonds: In general we are referring to the new low-cost resins the automotive industry is interested in. One of the goals of this project is to demonstrate which materials work the best. Nevertheless, since the PST method is so flexible, it is only a matter of finding the right combination of feed gases, plasma conditions and new sizings to achieve strong bonds with a particular resin.

CW: What will be involved in the commercialization effort?
Bonds: Our goals:

Technical

  • Design and build the PST unit
  • Examine both oxidative and non-oxidative surface chemistry functionalization.
  • Examine surface roughening effects.
  • Establish mechanical and chemical fiber surface modifications’ effects on composite part strength.
  • Determine optimal process for select sizing and resin chemistries.

Commercial

  • Obtain commitments from existing carbon fiber manufacturers to process their carbon fiber in the plasma surface treatment unit
  • Sell plasma surface treatment units to these companies for pilot lines and eventually production lines.
  • Sell plasma surface treatment units downstream users of carbon fiber that require specific surface treatment chemistries.

CW: What is the commercialization timeline?
Bonds: The project we proposed is 18 months, the end of which we will have an operational unit at the 1-ton/year scale, matching the throughput of our 1-ton plasma oxidation device. After that, we can scale much more quickly to industrial levels than plasma oxidation scaling, as the equipment is much smaller.

CW: Is C. A. Litzler building the equipment for this, just as they have for the oxidation technology?
Bonds: As with plasma oxidation, Litzler will build the conventional structures and components and RMX will build the plasma components and integrate it. 

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

14. July 2016

This year’s theme was “Carbon and Mobility” and the partner country was Korea, which is ramping up its own “carbon fiber valley” centered in Jeonju City and Jeonbuk Province.

For those not familiar with CFK Valley, it is a carbon fiber composites association founded in 2004 and headquartered in Stade, Germany, home of Airbus Stade. Click here for a history of Airbus Stade’s pioneering role in composites, as described by key CFK Valley member Composites Technology Center (CTC, Stade). CTC was formed in 2001, when the R&D group of Airbus Stade was spun off as an independent company. Other local composites companies include Web Industries, Hexcel, Broetje Automation, the DLR Center for Lightweight-Production-Technology (Zentrum für Leichtbauproduktionstechnologie, or ZLP), ACE Advanced Composite Engineering and DOW.

CFK Valley Nord (left) is part of a landscape of carbon fiber composite organizations adjacent to Airbus Stade (right). SOURCE: CFK Valley e.V. and CTC GmbH.

Also a key part of the CFK Valley is CFK Nord, reportedly Europe's largest carbon composites R&D center — located across the street from CTC and Airbus Stade —  which houses a variety of composites technology companies and research organizations.

Though CFK Valley was originally focused on northern Germany, it now has members worldwide and has established partnerships in Belgium and Japan.


Exhibition Highlights
A few dozen companies and organizations were represented outside of the conference auditorium. For me, one of the most interesting booths was CTC and Airbus Stade, where a range of samples and brochures described newly developed composites technologies including:

  • High-pressure RTM (HP-RTM) for aerospace structures (e.g., a z-frame injected and cured in 9 minutes)
  • Automated composite repair scarfing via Mobile Automated Repair Solution (MARS)
  • Automated production of CFRP fuselage frames using RTM
  • Out-of-autoclave (OOA) structural repair for A350 demonstrated on door corner area
  • Advanced assembly concept for vertical tail plane (VTP) using pulse-line work flow
  • Striplato – automated Stringer Placement Tool for repeat-precision stringer integration to fulfill upcoming rate requirements
  • Automated stringer integration on A350 wing
  • Use of thermal camera tool for optimization and troubleshooting of autoclave cure cycles.

Other exhibitors of interest included the automation specialist Fill (Gurten, Austria) and Olin Epoxy (Midland, MI, US), formed in 2015 by Olin Corp.’s (St. Louis, MO, US) acquisition of Dow Epoxy. The latter sells a broad line of epoxy resins (liquids, solids and solutions), novolac resins, curing agents, specialty epoxy tougheners, and fully formulated systems, but excludes those products currently sold via Dow Automotive Systems (Auburn Hills, MI, US).

PulPress technology demonstrated in a strut brace (right) with in situ-formed ROHACELL foam core and carbon fiber braid. SOURCE: Evonik HP Polymers Twitter and The Molding Blog.

Evonik Foams Inc. – ROHACELL (Theodore, AL, US) showcased PulPress technology developed with Secar Technologie GmbH (Mürzzuschlag-Hönigsberg, Austria).The process aims for cost-efficient 3D geometries using an automated continuous process that combines pultrusion and pressing. The process begins by guiding ROHACELL core into fiber reinforcement and resin injections systems, followed by feeding it into a movable press that continuously applies elevated pressure and temperature. The production line now in operation at Secar can produce 30 complex parts/hr using conventional systems, with increased output possible using fast-curing resins. A 30-60% reduction in manufacturing cost is claimed and composite car bumper has been demonstrated at 1/3 the weight and improved crash test performance vs. steel.

Fraunhofer IFAM technologies exhibited at CFK Valley Stade Convention 2016. SOURCE: Fraunhofer IFAM and 2013 CFK Valley Convention presentation.

Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM (Bremen, Germany) displayed several projects including:

  • Flexible holding fixtures for machining and assembly enable automated and adaptive manipulation of parts 2-6 m long and up to 6m in height using hexapods, linear actuators and modular racks. (Hexapods are robotic positioning devices/manipulators with six degrees of freedom, see Moog and Faulhaber.) Optical sensors can be integrated for part and machine measurement and force/torque sensors provide reliable process control.
     
  • Release agent-free composite part manufacturing using FlexPLAS release film, an elastic polymer, deep-draw film with a flexible plasma-polymer release layer that allows easy removal of parts from molds, even when stretched by 300%. Suitable for both male and female molds, it has been demonstrated in prepreg processing in a 180°C autoclave cure cycle and offers ready-to-paint surfaces without any release agent residues.

There was also a large joint exhibit by a number of Korean composites companies including:

  • DACC Aerospace Co. — supplier of fixed trailing edge (FTE) panels for Boeing 787 and 767
  • DACC Carbon — produces carbon-carbon and ceramic matrix composite (CMCs) parts for aircraft and automotive brakes as well as aerospace and industrial high-temp applications (e.g. C/Sic elevator brake pads)
  • Pitch Cable Inc. — carbon fiber heating elements for roads, outside benches and heating cushions (Jeonju, Korea)
  • Korean Institute of Carbon Convergence Technology (KCTECH, Jeonju, Korea)
  • Jeollabuk-do Carbon Industry Investment Guidebook was distributed by the city of Jeonbuk and the Carbon Industry Office, Economy and Industry
  • NICCA Chemical Co., Ltd. (Seoul, Korea) — Surface modification technique for recycled carbon fiber

I’ll post Conference Highlights next.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

14. July 2016

Recycling carbon fiber is not the challenge it once was, but finding a market for it is. CW's Carbon Fiber conference will take a closer look at this problem, Nov. 9-11 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

CompositesWorld's annual Carbon Fiber conference is coming up, Nov. 9-11 at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona. Co-chairs Arnt Offringa, director R&D at Fokker Technologies, and Andreas Wüllner, chairman of business unit, Composites – Fibers and Materials (CFM) at SGL Group and managing director of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, have helped put together a strong program; the agenda for the conference is largely complete and available here

One of the focus areas of Carbon Fiber this year is composites recycling. More specifically, the emphasis will be on the development of a market for recycled carbon fiber (RCF). Indeed, the ability to recycle composites is no longer the hurdle it once was. There are a number of firms that have developed viable technologies for recycling of uncured and cure composite materials, of which there is much throughout the industry — particularly with the ramp-up of Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350-XWB production. What's needed now is a market into which to sell RCF. 

Carbon Fiber will feature a panel of coposites recyclers who will comment on their technology, recycling capabilities in general, and what's needed from the marketplace to make recycling a viable enterprise going forward. These panelists will be:

  • Frazer Barnes, ELG Carbon Fibre Ltd.
  • Mark Janney, Carbon Conversions Inc.
  • Geoffrey M. Wood, Composite Recycling Technology Center
  • Andrew Maxey, Vartega Carbon Fiber Recycling LLC 

Janney, of Carbon Conversions, notes in his abstract, "One of the key challenges in developing the carbon fiber recycling business is 'closing the loop' — that is, matching sources of fiber for recycling with markets for parts made from recycled fiber.  This is preferably done with the same customer. But, very often the companies with sources of fiber to recycle (e.g., edge trimmings and in-process scrap from prepreg molding operations) do not have a need for chopped fiber composite compositions. CCI has been successful in several markets to date; however, the availability of source material still outweighs the demand for our range of products."

Visit the Carbon Fiber website for more information about the conference, to view the agenda and to register.

Carbon Fiber 2016 is sponsored by Harper International, Izumi International, Kamitsu and Toho Tenax America. 

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

13. July 2016

For Infinite Composites Technologies (ICT), Tulsa, Okla., it all began as students at Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater, Okla. In 2008, ICT founders Matt Villarreal and Michael Tate become part of a collegiate race team at OSU that raced under the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE). The race team was in need of help. When the duo joined, there was $56 in the account to design and fabricate a quarter scale Formula-1 style race car and take it to competition in Fontana, Calif. Eventually, Villarreal and Tate pushed for converting a vehicle to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) to attract new investors from local natural gas players. By 2010, the team successfully converted a vehicle to CNG with the assistance of Tulsa Gas Technologies and other supporting sponsors. And later that year, the founders formed CleanNG LLC. In 2015, the company changed its name to Infinite Composites Technologies to diversify itself and embrace its abilities to provide broader storage options for a larger customer base. 

The company created a patented infinite composite pressure vessel or infiniteCPV (iCPV), which is a Type-5 (Type V), liner-less all-composite vessel. The infiniteCPV’s all-composite design allows for users to take advantage of the maximum fuel storage capacity while lowering the weight. Traditional liners take up valuable storage space and reportedly add unnecessary weight. The iCPV provides 10% more useable volume while reducing weight by 90% compared to traditional vessels. And while the company has a focus on developing next-generation fuel storage and delivery systems for natural gas vehicles and storage applications, it has recently been gaining traction in the adoption of a Type V tank technology to the space industry.

ICT says that replacing heavy metallic structures with composites will enable the growth of space exploration by reducing fuel requirements, creating reusable rockets and lowering the cost to send goods into orbit. The company has worked with NASA and Yeti Space and is currently testing and developing propellant tanks for a confidential space company using the iCPV technology.

And with a plethora of startups from SpaceX to Blue Origin, there is a lot of movement in the space race and ICT sees an opportunity as these companies need high-pressure gas storage tanks. Every rocket uses a range of tank sizes for various needs from propulsion to breathing systems, but the one common goal each of these companies is to have the lightest system possible. After all, every pound saved on the high-pressure fuel systems can generate fuel savings. It also helps in reduced launch prices, which are currently at an all-time low because of reusable rockets. (For more on this topic, check out http://phys.org/news/2015-12-spaceplanes-reusable-rockets.html).  

Keep an eye out for a larger feature about the adoption of Type V tanks in space in an upcoming issue of CompositesWorld.

Posted by: Sara Black

6. July 2016

This exclusive champagne glass and protective cabinet, incorporating carbon fiber/epoxy, comes from Swedish designer Ragnar Friberg.

A Swedish industrial designer and artisan, Ragnar Friberg, contacted CW recently about a new project: a one-of-a-kind custom champagne glass and an accompanying storage cabinet that incorporates carbon fiber — along with a number of high-end materials including diamonds, gold, porphyry stone and black oak wood from the 15th Century. The founder of the design firm RAF (Stockholm), Friberg tells us that his years of experience with composites in power boat racing, where he constructed his own boats, led him to eventually build a business where he combines carbon fiber with other fine materials to make beautiful, exclusive yet useful articles. 

Friberg envisioned a 305 mm-tall champagne flute with a carbon fiber/epoxy cup combined with a gold stem ornamented with inlays, on an 18K solid gold base. The entire glass weighs 190 grams, with the base weighing 100 grams, “to balance the cup when it’s been filled with champagne,” says Friberg. He explains that the cup was made with 6 plies of a 1k 2x2 woven twill, 150 grams per square meter (gsm) and 1 mm thick, with the fabric supplied by textile weaver C. Cramer & Co.  (Heek, Germany). The fabric was wet out with an epoxy supplied by Huntsman Advanced Materials (The Woodlands, TX, US). Friberg explains that he rejected prepreg because “It looked too perfect, too sterile. I wanted to add a blue color to the epoxy resin, so that the cured cup and stem inlays would be faintly blue.” The biggest challenge was applying the gold leaf. After wetting the first ply with resin, he placed the gold leaf onto the wet-out fabric on a vacuum table, he explains: “I had to get the gold leaf to really sink into the fiber weave, and the vacuum helped in that regard.” Placing the gold-treated ply in the mold was also tricky, to avoid air entrapment and cracking of the very thin gold layer. After nearly 100 attempts to get the gold layer as he wanted it, Friberg says he switched to an epoxy with higher flexibility, which prevented cracking in the gold. To ensure the integrity of the gold/carbon bond, the cup was molded in two halves, with the inner 3 plies (including the gold) molded around an conical aluminum mandrel, and the outer three plies placed in a matching female mold. The entire layup was oven-cured at 60°C for 16 hours.

The cup is supported by four gold legs, which dovetail into the stem, which has carbon fiber inlays.

After demolding, the cup halves were bonded together (with seams offset by 90°), and the cup was sanded, clear-coated and polished. The photos show how the bottom of the cup is finished with an adhesively-bonded cast gold cone. Four thin, solid gold legs were glued to the cup’s exterior; the legs extend down past the cone to the square stem, where they are attached via dovetailed slots. The stem combines more carbon/epoxy, 15th Century black oak and lizard skin inlays over solid 18K gold; the stem in turn is fastened to the gold base with 4 gold screws. Three diamonds totalling 2.09 carats are part of the flute, including one that is set inside the cup at the bottom. Says Friberg, ”The diamond inside stimulates the champagne bubbles and boosts the bouquet.”

The cup is made with a 1K carbon twill, with gold leaf applied to the cup's inner surface before cure. 

The hefty 8 kg, 450 mm-high cabinet exists to hold and protect the glass. It is a combination of gold, porphyry stone, lizard skin and silk. All together, Friberg estimates that more than 1000 hours have gone into making the glass and cabinet, which, when offered to the market, will command approximately $120,000. When asked what motivates his work, Friberg says that he got interested in composites in the 1990s and has been working on projects that would showcase carbon fiber ever since: “I came up with the idea to make something really nice — to make a truly beautiful thing is worth trying.”  Friberg's web site (rafstockholm.com/index.html) has more photos and other products as well.

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