A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

13. October 2016

New Airbus subsidiary developing digital composites production for Industry 4.0
In an 8:30 am session on Sep. 29, Christian Weimer, head of Domain Composite Materials & Process for Airbus Group Innovations (Munich, Germany), spoke about “Increasing the Productivity of CFRP Production Processes”. Speaking mainly through the lens of increasing predictability and reliability, Weimer introduced where we are today and what is needed in order to make sure composites compete successfully on future airframes — one example: today, we have point measurements via laser scanning, but we need automated, inline 3D scanning.

He then announced that this summer Airbus spun off a new subsidiary, InFactory Solutions (Ottobrunn, Germany), that will develop, qualify and deliver sensor systems, data analytics and engineering consulting services for more automated, connected and intelligent manufacturing. Its first commercialization is a sensor that is applied directly to Airbus Group’s automated fiber placement (AFP) production for in-process quality monitoring of composite production that reduces inspection time by > 95%. The sensor can be used on any AFP head (e.g. AFPT, Coriolis, Electroimpact, Fives, Ingersoll, MTorres) and is qualified per Airbus Process Spec (AIPS).

Airbus’ Illescas, Spain plant is already testing the system for A350 XWB production, with German sites Airbus Group Helicopters in Donauworth and Premium Aerotec in Augsburg following by year-end. InFactory Solutions currently will offer its products & services to suppliers worldwide and aims to develop solutions for the complete composites process chain including other layup methods, cure, machining, etc.

Next generation of composite cure sensors — wireless temp. monitoring
AvPro Inc. (Norman, OK, US) has partnered with TSI Technologies LLC (Wichita, KS, US) to develop the next generation of composite cure temperature sensors: The ThermoPulse system. Consisting of an antenna with transmit and receive capabilities, an embeddable microwire temperature sensor and a reader box, which collects the antenna readings, the ThermoPulse in-situ measurement system allows for wireless monitoring of temperature from the interior of a composite part or repair.

Measuring just 0.25mm by 32mm, ThermoPulse sensors are small enough to be permanently embedded within a composite interior or adhesive bondline in fly-away parts. Studies with American and European companies showed no significant difference in mechanical properties between samples created with sensors and those without.

Throughout the cure, the ThermoPulse Microwire supplies real-time temperature data to the controller, providing assurance and log records that performance-critical parts are actually reaching required temperatures. ThermoPulse can facilitate AvPro's Material State Management (MSM) solution for composites processing which helps provide critical visibility re: the degree of cure and the effects of a cure process on the part itself. (For more background, see “Automation and optimizing autoclave cure”.)

Triaxial Quantum Forged Preg lends new performance and aesthetics to golf club (left).
Carbon fiber SMC legs enabled Ferno’s engineered medical transport stretcher (right).

A. Schulman (Akron, OH, US) launched Quantum Forged Preg, a family of continuous carbon fiber-reinforced hybrid vinylester molding compounds, including triaxial, biaxial and unidirectional variants. Developed in collaboration with the world’s largest maker of premium performance golf goods, and the company’s fiber supplier, Quantum Forged Preg offers thinner parts vs. chopped fiber systems with exceptional strength and stiffness and is suitable for high-performance automotive and aerospace applications.

A. Schulman now offers a complete line of composite solutions, from thermosets to thermoplastics, having acquired Citadel Plastics Holdings Inc. (West Chicago, IL, US), which owned The Composites Group (TCG, Cleveland, OH, US), itself a rollup of Premix Inc., Hadlock Plastics and Quantum Composites. It will be establishing a new customer development center to shorten product cycles and provide material-agnostic development support. Stay tuned for more details.

Rock West one-stop resource for composites
Rock West Composites (West Jordan, UT, US) stocks an amazing array of composites tubes — spread tow, natural fiber, filament wound, aramid, glass and carbon — and builds custom composite parts like Hans driver safety devices, suspension components, testing fixtures and industrial structures (e.g. armatures). It also offers a one-stop supply for fabrics, prepregs, cores, adhesives, composite plate and angle stock and myriad machining tools and process supplies.

Conductive composites for electrostatic painting
OCSiAl (Columbus, OH, US) exhibited its TUBALL single wall carbon nanotubes as a production-enhancing means for achieving conductive composite surfaces that must be electrostatically painted, for example, automotive exteriors.

More to come:
Adesso’s recyclable composites for circuit boards and buses, Ikonics precision abrasive machining and TEI Composites’ colored carbon fiber.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

13. October 2016

Machine tool manufactured by Precorp, which is now owned by Sandvik Coromant.

Every two years, in September, there is a massive trade show in Chicago called IMTS, and it's more likely than not that you've never heard of it. IMTS, back in the day, used to stand for International Machine Tool Show (that's why you probably have never heard of it). Today, IMTS stands for International Manufacturing Technology Show, which reflects the show's effort to become a gathering place of manufacturing technologies of all kinds. But, it is still, predominantly, a machine tool show. 

I go to IMTS for a couple of days every two years because composite parts, like metals, often must be cut, trimmed, drilled or in some other way machined post-mold. I like to go to the show to find out who is offering what in the way of tools and machines directed specficially at the composites industry. As you might guess, the aisles are not overflowing with such composites-specific products, but they can be found.

In addition, because composites are a novelty to the metals machining folks, there is a certain amount of curiosity about how composites fit into overall machining picture. That is, if you are a metals machinist, and that is all you do, you probably don't fully understand why or how composites might need to be acted on by a machine tool.

So, at IMTS 2016 I was invited by the folks at IMTS TV to talk about the machining of advanced composites. This is the video that results. And if you know composites and machining of composites, it's not news (and forgive me if I err in any way), but for your metalhead friends, it might be a nice conversation starter about how composites are different than metals. This video is safe for work (SFW). 


Note: I mention in the interview the possibility that the 787 will be redesigned. I meant the 757 might be redesigned. 

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

13. October 2016

There is a permanent and looming question facing the composites industry, and if you ask it of 10 people, you're likely to get 10 different answers. The question is this: How will carbon fiber be applied on next-generation commercial aircraft?

Given the substantial use of carbon fiber on the Airbus A350 XWB and the Boeing 787, you might naturally assume we would see similar in post-A350/787 aircraft. And you'd probably be wrong, for a lot of reasons that have to do with aircraft size and laminate thickness and aircraft build rate and much more. And that's why you have 10 different answers: Because future carbon fiber use in aerospace is not predicted by past carbon fiber use in aerospace, speculation abounds.

CompositesWorld's annual Carbon Fiber conference is coming up Nov. 9-11 in Scottsdale, Arizona, and there will be no shortage there of learned and educated opinion about carbon fiber's aerospace value, where it might be used in future aircraft, and how much in demand it's likely to be.

Among those you'll hear is Adrian Williams, co-founder and managing director of Future Materials Group (FMG; Cambridge, UK), who will take lessons learned from the A350 and 787 and apply them to next-generation narrow-body aircraft, like whatever becomes of the 737 and A320, which have build rates orders of magnitude larger than wide-body aircraft.

For a sneak peak at Adrian's position on the matter, check out his column in CompositesWorld earlier this year. To hear what Adrian — and many others — have to say in person about carbon fiber's future, come to the Carbon Fiber conference . I look forward to seeing you there.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

12. October 2016

CAMX continues to grow and this year saw a 10% increase in attendance. And once again the event featured all kinds of interesting and innovative applications. Here are some of the highlights of what I saw during the show:

Bio-resin market growing. Sicomin (Marseille, France) presented its range of bio-based epoxy resins during CAMX. With a bio-based carbon content ranging from 28% to 51%, Sicomin’s bio-systems can be used for hand-laminating, infusion, pultrusion/filament winding and HP-RTM. Sports equipment providers from skis to surfboards are pushing for bio-based products, says Sicomin's export manager Marc Denjean. For instance, Sicomin’s bio resin GreenPoxy33 is being used for the manufacture of French ski manufacturer ZAG's extra light touring ski range. And while several European companies have worked with the company to produce bio-friendly products, Marc Denjean says that the company is also seeing demand from North American companies for the bio-resins in the sports and leisure market.

Automotive crash analysis. Altair (Troy, Mich.) emphasized its tools and expertise for analyzing and optimizing composite structures. The company provides impact analysis for high momentum events such as a bird strike, crash, drops and more using its RADIOSS structural analysis solver. RADIOSS’ application areas include crash safety, drop testing, blast and hydrodynamic impact, terminal ballistic fluid structural interaction, forming and composite mapping. Robert Yancey, vice president of aerospace for Altair, told CW that the company is using its more than 20 years of experience in aerospace to also focus on automotive crash analysis to improve crashworthiness, safety and manufacturability of structural designs.

Cool looking bow and arrow. Hollywood has rejuvenated interest in archery thanks to the TV show Arrow and the Hunger Game movie series. Composites is also making its mark in the archery industry, where Huntsman (The Woodlands, Texas) had a display of a Hoyt compound bow and Easton composite arrows. So imagine a 1.2lb hollow carbon riser holding and surviving a 6,115lb full-sized truck - apparently that’s the strength of Hoyt’s carbon technology bows. More than 50 different custom carbon components went into making this bow. And on the arrow side, Easton composite arrows features an unidirectional carbon fiber core and micro-smooth finish for quiet release and “easier removal from targets.” 

Focus on the next generation. CAMX 2016 concluded with a luncheon featuring a panel of students who offered their insights on how advances in composites are changing the world. The topics varied from recycling to diversity. Kristin Hardin, a PhD student at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), said that while "composites have become widespread and used for incredible things, there is even greater potential for the industry moving forward if businesses embrace sustainability."

“I really like an environment that fosters creativity from the bottom up as well as from the top down, and also an employer that promotes education and growth for their employees through education programs and further education opportunities,” said Kristin Hardin, a PhD student at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “I’d also like to see an employer that promotes diversity.”

Posted by: Sara Black

7. October 2016

TEK-USA's compression-molded, net-shape component needs no post-cure machining.

Composites are relatively new materials, and since their begining, able and motivated individuals have been diligently trying to make them better. A case in point is TEK-USA (Canal Fulton, OH, US). I had the chance recently to talk at length with the president and CEO of the company, Chris Willison, who described how the enterprise has morphed from an Akron-area job shop making metal compression molds, tools and plastic parts into a high-tech composites fabricator supplying the oil and gas industry, as well as many more industrial clients. It’s a fascinating journey involving a lot of creativity: “We had to reinvent ourselves — mold technology was going away. Fortunately, we have retained those legacy skills, which has really helped us with our composite products,” says Willison.

The company began machining complex and detailed metal parts and molds for a few major oilfield supply company in the mid-2000s, while meanwhile developing a compression-molded composite version of a “slip” for the industry (a “slip” is a conical wedge with teeth or other gripping elements that is critical for the performance of fracking and bridge plugs used to isolate specific zones in a borehole. Slips prevent the plug from slipping further down into the hole, thanks to the gripping elements that wedge against the inner wall of the well casing; they are milled out after work on that specific zone is complete). Willison says his company was one of the first able to produce a cost- and production-efficient composite slip (in a patent-pending process), which took years to perfect and a lot of effort to sell the client on the benefits, but which is now a benchmark in the oil and gas industry, thanks to a major client. “The metallic business for oil and gas was instrumental in creating the opportunity to exploit our core expertise: composites!” says Willison.

TEK-USA's compression-molded composite slip component.

The decline of natural gas prices and consolidation in the oil and gas industry over the past several years resulted in a near-disaster for the company, which lost contracts and had to create new business. “We needed some alternative, disruptive technologies,” says Willison, who believed that there were better materials for frac plug components, given his knowledge of the downhole oil and gas market (see CW’s articles about frac plugs, here:, and here: ), components that were stronger and could stand up to higher pressures and temperatures downhole. At the same time, his company’s technology could transfer to industries other than oil and gas.

Willison’s group first developed a phenolic resin system for higher temperature frac and bridge plug components, branded as PhenoliX molding compounds. With a better understanding of how to manufacture and compound PhenoliX materials, TEK-USA believed that it could do the same with a hybrid epoxy, which it branded Zepoxy, which had the potential for better performance than phenolic in specific applications; the drawback was that there was no one utilizing this type of material technology, says Willison. With proprietary additives, good material management and process controls, Zepoxy offers significant benefits, he adds: “We had spent years trying to convince customers that machining of cured composite frac bodies was a mistake, causing fiber breakage and reducing part strength and structural integrity, particularly in critical geometries such as threaded areas.”

TEK-USA’s view was that a frac plug body could be filament wound using glass fiber and the Zepoxy system, but then compression-molded while green, to literally shift fibers and resin into a final net shape that required no post-cure machining. This technology, trademarked ZCORE Filament Wound ISO-molded Composites and in the process of being patented, creates a frac plug body (or bearings, or tubular sleeves, or – the list is long) with “Precision Fiber Integration (PFI)” that adds fiber buildups in key areas, such as in threaded areas. The Zepoxy resin is a hybrid system, formulated in-house, with a Tg of 154°C and a service temperature of 220°C, giving it a heat resistance significantly above oil industry standards, says Willison. With molds and custom presses produced in-house, TEK-USA is able to de-gas the filament-wound parts for virtually zero void content, which enhances part strength (they are able to withstand 28,600 kgs of compressive force). Metallic coatings for wear can also be applied. While no details were shared, the frac plug component technology looks to be ready to transition into a number of alternative industrial applications.

“We’re cross-pollinating technology across many industries,” asserts Willison. “We’re the only company I know of that can effectively compression mold with hybrid epoxy for net shape products — we’ve got many ideas and potential products.” With an ISO 9001- and 17025-certified 5574m2 facility fully-equipped for machining, molding, testing, formulation, quality control and production, using Six-Sigma methods, the company is now serving aerospace, defense, nuclear and the energy and exploration markets. Watch for more announcements from this innovative industrial composites company. Here’s TEK-USA’s Web site for more information and contact details:  

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