A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

30. June 2015

A group of engineering students from the University of Sherbrooke in Québec, Canada believe mountain biking should be enjoyed year-round. The students have developed a new bike concept that can be adapted to mountains downhill on the snow.

“This prototype will be unique in its capacity to reproduce the same feelings and behavior of a conventional mountain bike,” the group said.

The design is a dual-ski system for braking and handling. The user has to grip a regular brake lever to activate a small hydraulic cylinder to open up the skis so the bike brakes.

The propulsion system includes quite a few components. The students say they wanted to make it as light as possible, but it has to handle the impacts received while riding a downhill mountain bike. They created the principal rim with a blend of aluminum and carbon fiber. The whole system will be driven by an internal geared hub.

Principal rim

To judge the project’s success, the key components they will evaluate are stability, braking capacities, maneuverability and propulsion. All these criteria will be tested in various snow conditions and compared to the performances of a regular mountain bike used in the summer. The students claim that bikes currently on the market do not perform well in all these criteria, either by the absence of a propulsion system or by poor maneuverability.

As is typical with most college students—this group is working with limited funds. They have a few sponsors and the group has also launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise more money.

The students hope to have this prototype ready by December 2015. They are “confident about delivering a functional prototype meeting all the requirements previously set to fulfill the lack of thrills suffered by the mountain bike lovers during the winter."

The group put together a nicely made video detailing the project. Check it out here:

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

25. June 2015

Peter Egger, director of the Engel Center for Lightweight Composites‚Äč.

Injection molding manufacturer Engel recently hosted more than 3,000 customers and partners at its facilities in St. Valentin and Linz, Austria. I attended the symposium that took place in picturesque Austria and spent some time at Engel’s Technology Center for Lightweight Composites, which was established in 2012 at St. Valentin. Engel showcased the work being done at the technology center, while at the same time, calling attention to the importance of collaborative research in composites R&D.

Together with its partners Fill (Gurten, Austria) and Hennecke (St. Augustin, Germany), Engel demonstrated the HP-RTM process with a generic test component on an Engel v-duo 3550/1100 machine during the symposium. Hennecke is its partner for polyurethane processing; Fill specializes in the production and processing of fiber-reinforced composite preform elements. Thanks to the close cooperation with its partners, Engel can also provide highly integrated system solutions—including the production of preforms—for the production of FRP components from a single source.  

Peter Egger, director of the Engel Center for Lightweight Composites, told me that the center allows the company to work on the intensive interdisciplinary development of fiber composite technology together with partner companies and universities.

Engel recently annouced that it is currently building a v-duo 3600 machine for the Open Hybrid Lab Factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. Engel is a founder member and sponsor of the research center initiated by Volkswagen in 2012 and supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research. With clamping force of 36,000 kN, the Engel v-duo 3600 is the largest machine in its series. One machine in the same clamping force class is installed at BMW’s Landshut factory, where large structural components of fiber-reinforced plastic composites are manufactured using the HP-RTM process.

Engel developed its v-duo series specifically for fiber-reinforced processing. In contrast to the presses conventionally used in such applications, Engel vertical machines have a relatively small footprint, the company says. The height and weight of the machines are much lower, which reduces the foundation building overhead. The clamping unit can be accessed from all four sides instead of just two due to a very high rigidity as well as the parallelism of the mold mounting platens.

Currently, the company is focused on solutions for the automotive market. (Egger did say they are also interested in both aerospace and electronics). With regards to lightweight design in the automotive market, new processes as well as new materials must be developed for automotive manufacturing. 

“One of the biggest challenges is design—there are a lot of nice products, new materials and very good processes, but still a very big gap on how to design the parts for composites,” he said.

Each day, Engel stays focused on driving the industrialization of the composites process forward. 

“The speed of development and the speed of getting composites in the marketplace is still quite low if you look at how long people are working with it,” Egger said. “The goal is go from handwork to serial production. The advantage of Engel is that we are more used to serial work and the quality control implementation that is part of the injection molding machine process.”

Posted by: Sara Black

17. June 2015

The Paris Air Show opened on Monday June 15, 2015 to the usual massive crowds

Ah, there’s nothing like the sight and sound of a fighter jet performing jaw-dropping aerobatic moves under a clear blue sky in Le Bourget, especially if you’re lucky enough to be sipping a glass of champagne and sitting on a chalet’s sunny deck, at the 51st edition of the Paris Air Show. I’m not that lucky – in 2013, when I last attended, I got drenched by torrential rain, was nearly hit by lightning, got stuck on a bus in gridlocked traffic for hours, and contracted the flu. So I’m summarizing some highlights of the world’s longest-running air show, remotely. I do plan on attending the EAA’s Airventure event in Oshkosh, next month; more on that below.

Of course, the biggest news at the Paris Air Show is always the announced aircraft orders. On Monday, Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine announced that Qatar Airways has ordered 10 Boeing 777-8Xs and four 777 freighters, valued at US$4.8 billion at list prices. These aircraft, which are in addition to the 50 777-9Xs Qatar already has on order, reportedly take Boeing’s total orders and commitments for the type to 320. Garuda Indonesia signed a letter of intent at the show to purchase 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and up to 30 737 MAX 8s. Garuda reconfirmed its intent to purchase 50 737 MAX 8s, originally announced in October 2014. The airline currently operates more than 90 Boeing aircraft, including next-generation versions of the 737, 777-300ER and 747-400. Garuda also signed a letter of intent with Airbus to purchase 30 A350 XWBs with which it plans to develop its medium and long haul networks, with the aircraft capable of flying nonstop from Jakarta or Bali to Europe.

And there were more: GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) announced a firm order for 60 Airbus A320neo family aircraft, to be powered by CFM’s LEAP-1A engines. CFM valued the engine order at US$1.77 billion at current list prices. This latest order brings the total number of A320neos ordered by GECAS to 120. Saudi Arabian Airlines presented a firm order for 20 Airbus A330-300 regional aircraft plus a firm order for 20 A320ceos. Swiss International Air Lines, which had 30 Bombardier CS100s on order under a purchase agreement signed by Lufthansa in 2009, has swapped 10 of them for CS300s and may change some, or all, of the 10 CS100s due for delivery in 2018 to the larger variant, according to Aviation Week’s report. Also announced was that Russia’s Yakutia Airline signed an order with Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co. for three additional Sukhoi Superjet SSJ100s. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2017.

All of these orders highlight the unprecedented build rate that aircraft OEMs are trying to manage. How will it be possible to build and deliver all of these planes? A 2013 aerospace industry report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC (London, UK) titled “Aviation’s Second Golden Age” points out that the demand presents opportunities for global expansion, but carries risks, including intellectual property protection, finding (and keeping) good talent and the soundness of offshoring. A big challenge is how to maintain, and grow, production line capacity. And, take a look at an opinion by Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group, writing for Aviation Week, entitled "Short-term memories can lead to big miscalculations," on June 19th, which points out that a down cycle may be just around the corner.

The composites industry is of course tracking aerospace demand, and offering new materials and strategies to increase flyaway share. Aviation Week reports that, among the more than 2,000 exhibitors at the show, the French company Lineo (St.-Martin du Tilleul) has developed flax-based epoxy prepregs for aircraft interiors, called FlaxTape, which reportedly are 35% lighter than carbon fiber/epoxy prepreg tapes. It also offers a sandwich product, called Simbaa, as an alternative to traditional sandwich constructions. The company is reportedly ramping up production of FlaxTape for the automotive industry as well.

Hexcel made an announcement at the show that it has teamed with its distributor Groupe Gazechim Composites, and their affiliate Composites Distribution, to support MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) activities for composites-intensive aircraft. Composites Distribution is launching a product called CAB (for Composite AeroBox) made by Sunaero that can store frozen prepregs, ancillary room-temperature materials, and a hotbonder control panel, all within an easy-to-transport box. The concept enables quick repair of damaged composite parts in the field, says Hexcel. The concept, which supports a hot bonder and heater blanket, is reportedly approved by the Commercial Aircraft Composite Repair Committee (CACRC).

Other announcements included a new helicopter concept from Airbus Helicopters. The X6, announced Tuesday, will be a next-generation heavy-lift rotorcraft tailored for the civil market, and especially oil and gas missions. Airbus says the X6 is the newest arrival in Airbus Helicopters’ H generation, continuing on from the recently unveiled H160. “X6 will be for the heavy segment in the next decade what the H160 is today for the mediums. It will set new standards in the industry not only for design, but for its production strategy as well, as we will rely on the industrial capacities of our core countries, including the upcoming pillar in Poland,” explained Guillaume Faury, the president and CEO of Airbus Helicopters. The company notes that entry into service will be after 2020.

Further announcements will continue this week. CW will present a Paris Air Show summary in our upcoming August issue. For an Airbus-centric view of the first day of the Paris Air Show, try this video: Boeing’s test pilot narrates the 787 Dreamliner’s flying display in this video:, and this Boeing video summarizes the first day of the show:

Next month, July 20 – 26, I hope to attend the 63rd edition of the AirVenture Fly-In show at Oshkosh, WI, also a big event but one focused more on general aviation and less on commercial craft. That said, the Airbus A350XWB will make an appearance,

Because many members of the Experimental Aircraft Assn (EAA) build and fly their own planes, there is typically a wealth of exhibits and information about composites. If you go, don’t miss a series of hands-on demonstrations by Russ Emanis, of RS Industries (Keller, TX, US). Russ, an Oshkosh regular whom we’ve written about (see this article on double bagging methods for infusion: will be demonstrating composite infusion methods, including making molds, layup and bagging technique, resin mixing and part release and trim methods, for a full-scale aircraft fuselage. Russ will be supported by reinforcements supplier TexTreme as well as other material suppliers.

Mooney Aircraft will have its new all-composite aircraft on display, the M10T and M10J. A departure for the previously metal-centric company, these two new designs, which made their North American debut at the recent Sun‘n’Fun event, incorporate a carbon fiber composite roll-cage design, and glass fiber composites in the rest of the airframe.

ICON Aircraft reports that it has successfully completed its FAA production inspection and compliance audit at its facility, and was granted an S-LSA airworthiness certificate. The amphibious sport aircraft will have its usual display at Oshkosh. Epic Aircraft will have their carbon composite E1000 turboprop business jet on display at the show. The plane is close to FAA certification, and is expected to enter the marketplace next year. Watch for a plant tour and further information about the Epic E1000 in the pages of CW.

Hope to see you in Oshkosh – and enjoy the summer.


Posted by: Heather Caliendo

15. June 2015

Vortex Bladeless (Boston, MA, US) believes that wind energy could use an extreme makeover. Instead of capturing energy via the rotational motion of a turbine, the company has developed a wind generator, called the Vortex, which is a carbon-fiber intensive wind generator without blades. The Vortex takes advantage of what’s known as vorticity, an aerodynamic effect that occurs when wind breaks against a solid structure. The Vortex structure starts to oscillate, and captures the energy that is produced.

The company claims it hasn’t simply just removed the blades, but rather designed it to have no parts in contact at all. (So no gears, linkages, etc.).

Vortex integrates the tower and generator into one structure, requiring less moving parts and less material to produce the same amount of electricity. It also eliminates the nacelle, the support mechanisms and the blades. As cost is a big driver for just about everything, Vortex Bladeless touts that manufacturing savings are roughly estimated at around 53% of the usual wind turbine production cost. And the company claims that the Vortex will produce energy at a 40% lower cost than a comparable wind installation.

Vortex has five main parts: the foundation, rod, generation system, tuning system and mast. The carbon fiber rod gives strength and flexibility to the movement, while minimizing energy dissipation. And the mast is a light circular structure made of fiberglass and carbon fiber. The mast acts a wind breaker that generates the oscillatory movement thanks to what the company calls the ‘Vortex Shedding’ effect. 

Company officials do caution that the Vortex is not immune to fatigue. The wind can cause twisting and displacement of the structure, primarily in the elastic rod and especially in the lower section that has to withstand greater forces. However, studies carried out by Vortex Bladeless reportedly confirm that the stress on the rod is far from the working limit of the materials. Computational modeling estimates operational lifetime of the installation to be between 32 and 96 years.

Vortex Bladeless has finalized wind tunnel tests, most of the R&D is done and they have a working prototype. The company also has multiple patents of its technology. Execs also have launched a crowdfunding campaign that will help it create the commercial pilot for its first product, Vortex Atlantis (100 W). 

While the technology is quite inventive, bringing such a radical new product to the wind energy field is not an easy feat.

For instance, a recent article in the MIT Technology Review took a critical eye to the technology.

“If you have a common propeller-type wind turbine, you have a big area swept by the blades,” says Martin Hansen, a wind energy specialist at the Technical University of Denmark. “Here you just have a pole.”

In addition to capturing less energy, oscillating cylinders can’t convert as much of that energy into electricity, Hansen says. A conventional wind turbine typically converts 80 to 90% of the kinetic energy of its spinning rotor into electricity. David Yáñez says his company’s custom-built linear generator will have a conversion efficiency of 70%.

Is this bladeless wind generator too good to be true? Or will it become the new normal? 

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

11. June 2015


SciTech Industries and Rapid Composites have developed an airless tire using glass fiber/PET composite springs that replace innertubes and air while enabling unique performance advantages. SOURCE: SciTech Industries.

Non-pneumatic (“airless”) tires are not new. Michelin’s polyurethane (no fiber reinforcement that I can confirm) X TWEEL airless radial tires for construction, farm and lawn equipment are being produced at its new Piedmont, South Carolina factory. Bridgestone also has a model in development and Resilient Technologies is focusing its efforts on the military.

Michelin’s polyurethane and steel belted TWEEL airless tire (left),
Bridgestone’s development concept (center) and Resilient Technologies’ prototype for the military (right). SOURCE: and and

SciTech Industries’ design is radically different, using glass fiber reinforced polyethylene terephthalate (PET) springs to support from inside the conventional rubber tread vs. shaped plastic spokes from the wheel’s center. It also fits a standard rim and does not make noise, even at elevated speeds. “It looks and even smells just like the tires on your car now,” says Morris Corn, president of SciTech Industries LLC, New Tech Tire LLC and Turf Tech Tire LLC (Boca Raton, FL, US), “but our manufacturing process requires only three operations vs. the 36 different steps required for today’s standard tires.” Corn adds that the SciTech airless tire costs no more to make than current tires, yet should boost fuel efficiency by at least 2% (inflation and shape does not change) and saves weight by eliminating the need for a spare.

SciTech’s tire could also help to eliminate all of those “thrown” treads on the highways, what truckers call “alligators”. Several reports show that almost 70% of these are caused by road hazards (impacts, punctures) and excessive heat, the latter caused mostly by underinflation, which causes heat to build up in the radial steel belts and subsequent delamination of the tread. SciTech’s composite-supported airless tire, however, can never be underinflated or overinflated. It also runs “cool”, preventing heat buildup, and can sustain multiple impacts from road hazards — even from ammunition rounds — while continuing safe operation. This is because out of an average 100 springs per tire (depending on tire size and loading), approximately nine are supporting load from the road at any given time. Thus, even the loss of several springs is not enough to cause failure. For trucking companies, this could save millions of dollars, tires being the second largest expense after drivers.

SciTech’s omega-shaped, glass fiber-reinforced PET springs (left) enable many of its performance advantages, as well as easy tailoring for a wide range of products such as bicycles, cars and lawnmowers, like the wide, more flexible Turf Tech tire shown here (right).
SOURCE:  SciTech Industries

The SciTech Industries non-pneumatic tire concept originated with an inventor, the one-time R&D manager for Taurus Hungarian Rubber Works in Budapest. He approached SciTech with the concept and the two companies worked to develop and test it, with SciTech eventually buying the patent and extending it worldwide. SciTech then assigned refinement of the springs to composites engineer Michael Moon (who also designed the composite tennis racket used by Serena Williams to win the 2005 U.S. Open).

The composite springs in SciTech’s airless tire were further developed by engineer Michael Moon, shown giving this presentation at a tire conference in Clemson, SC. SOURCE:

The next step was to advance the manufacturing process. SciTech commissioned Rapid Composites (Myakka City, FL, US) to help design the equipment to make the tires on a commercial scale. “They are masters in development and have done a great job,” says Corn. “They have helped us do a lot in parallel instead of in series.”

The Skinny on Spring Supports
The omega-shaped composite spring supports are made using multiple spools of glass fiber, extruded with melted PET so that every filament is encapsulated. Extrusions then go into a heated mold which forms the springs. Formed springs and rubber for tread and sidewalls are robotically placed into the tire mold and, within minutes, a tire is completed. “Because our tires do not use a belt, we can produce them with a process quite similar to injection molding,” says Corn.

One of the key challenges was finding the right composite to allow infinite load cycling. “It needed to be as strong as steel,” says Corn, “but still flexible in order to match the ride of a pneumatic tire and yet resist heat build-up.” The springs can be tailored to meet a wide variety of demands — from thin wheels for bicycles, to wide wheels for lawn equipment, to 15-ft diameter tires for heavy equipment. The composites can use continuous E-glass or S-glass in a variety of deniers and may also exploit nanofibers or nanoclay — with a reported 40% boost in flexural strength. The design of the springs is also important, limiting deflection to meet these varied performance demands while preventing bending of the wheel rims in case of road hazards and holes.

Truly Disruptive
This is truly disruptive technology. “If this type of tire is adopted by the industry,” says Corn, “a lot of the current manufacturing equipment and infrastructure are no longer needed.” Fiber supplier Owens Corning (Toledo, OH, US) has even started to look at global glass fiber capacity.

Corn says the tire industry has made this type of change before, when it switched from bias belted tires — which it had used for 50 years — to radial tires in the 1950s and 60s. However, only Europe and Japan switched early on, with American tire companies refusing to retool and afraid of the 45% higher production cost and harder ride, even though the benefits of longer tread life, better steering, less rolling resistance and improved fuel economy were enough to win over overseas consumers. Goodrich eventually was forced out of the tire business over this, and in the end, it was the gas crisis, increased purchase of imports with radial tires and customer demand for better fuel mileage that finally forced the U.S. auto industry to adopt radial tires by 1983.

So what will the U.S. tire industry do this time? “We’ve already run tire trials in Europe,” says Corn, “and our pilot plant is now molding tires for American OEMs and tire producers to beta test.” In SciTech’s favor, its tire is actually less complex to produce and operate vs. current models, whereas the radial was more complex than bias belted tires. “Already, our small warehouse-sized pilot plant can make as many airless tires as a pneumatic tire factory spanning acres,” says Corn. The SciTech tire materials can also be recycled and made using a high percentage of recycled content, for a greener, more sustainable cradle-to-cradle cycle. Corn says the number of players already pursuing airless tires proves consumers are ready. “We’ve worked on this product and process for 12 years,” he adds. “We know we have a superior product, thanks to composites,” he adds. “We will find the right partner to offer the market what it wants.”

Additional benefits:

  • At least 2% increase in fuel economy expected due to less sidewall flex and low rolling resistance.
  • Tire shape and rolling resistance stays constant, no change due to inflation.
  • Elimination of spare tire not only reduces weight but opens valuable packaging space for sensors, electronics, safety structure, etc.
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