CW Blog

Posted by: Jeff Sloan 11. January 2017

Reading the Trump tea leaves

I am in Washington, DC, this week attending the ACMA Composites Executive Forum, where, not surprisingly, there was much speculation among the speakers about what President-elect Donald Trump and the new US Congress has in store for the United States. 

There is a fair amount of uncertainty surrounding this question, particularly given the non-specific nature of some of Trump's policy positions during the General Election campaign. And that uncertainty expressed itself today at the conference in the form of broad speculation by speakers about what Trump might do, and how it might affect the composites industry.

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Posted by: Jeff Sloan 11. January 2017

Overmolding for automotive

Surface Generation (Rutland, UK) has started work on an 18-month research and development project to produce affordable, lightweight carbon fiber components for the automotive industry.

Backed by Innovate UK, Surface Generation is working with project partners to create enhanced automotive components, exploiting its patented PtFS production process to overmold long fiber-reinforced carbon fiber composites with short-fiber thermoplastics. Surface Generation will develop manufacturing solutions for the production of coupons, sub-element components and demonstrator articles, designed to improve the performance of composites in automotive applications. 

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A collaboration between University of Surrey, University of Bristol and aerospace company Bombardier has developed new technology that could enhance both the electrical and thermal conductivity of conventional composite materials. The technology involves growing carbon nanotubes on the surface of carbon fiber to improve the performance of composites.  

The research shows off the potential of a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic to be made multifunctional, while still maintaining its structural integrity. Novel functionality including sensors, energy harvesting lighting and communication antennae can now be integrated into the structure of the composite.

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Fibersail, a 2014 startup firm with offices in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and Leça de Palmeira, Portugal, aims to change the current state of real-time structural health/shape monitoring for composite structures — initially, for wind farm operators. The company says it has developed a system to monitor and analyze the behavior of wind turbine blades in terms of shape, in real time. The user-friendly system provides information to help operators prevent blade failures and reduce overall wind farm maintenance costs.

CEO and company co-founder Pedro Pinto spoke with me recently to describe the Fibersail system and the benefits available to users. Several fiber optic cables, fitted with multiple Fiber Bragg Grating (FBG) sensors, are applied to a flat composite batten. The sensors are “related” to each other by the company’s proprietary algorithms and software, which allow monitoring of both flapwise and edgewise movements for documentation of three-dimensional structural deformation. The batten or measurement tool is not intended to be embedded within a composite laminate, but rather to be adhered on the interior or exterior surface of the structure to be measured (e.g., wind turbine blade), preferably in a pre-fabricated slot, but in theory anywhere appropriate for that structure, says Pinto: “Imagine a ruler that you use to measure. We consider our sensor like a digital ruler, which the client can simply attach and start  measuring. It could be placed inside the wind blade for monitoring in the real environment, or on the outer surface in testing facilities.”

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SpaceX has announced conclusions from the accident investigation team as to the cause of the Sept. 1, 2016 explosion during fueling of a Falcon 9 launch vehicle in preparation for a launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The team — comprising the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. Air Force (USAF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and several industry experts — collaborated with SpaceX to review more than 3,000 channels of video and telemetry data from the 93-millisecond timeline between first anomalous data to loss of the second stage rocket. In addition, umbilical data, ground-based video and physical debris were analyzed, with SpaceX conducting a wide range of tests at its Hawthorne, CA, and McGregor, TX, facilities.

The team has concluded that one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside  the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank failed. These COPVs use the industry standard of carbon fiber composite wrapped over an aluminum liner, and are designed to hold super-cold helium (He) under high pressure. Attached inside the Falcon 9’s larger tank of cold LOX propellant, the smaller He COPVs are used to maintain pressure in that tank.

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