CW Blog

An aerocomposites wish list

Dr. Thomas Tsotsis, technical fellow, materials and process technology at Boeing Research & Technology (Huntington Beach, CA, US), was a keynote speaker at the Society of Plastics Engineers’ (SPE) ANTEC conference in Anaheim, CA, on May 10. Tsotsis’ presentation title was simple: “A path for composites.” It might also have been titled, “My composites wish list.”

Admittedly, the complete composites manufacturing strategy of a company as big as Boeing cannot be ascribed to one person at Boeing, but Tsotsis’ long experience with aerocomposites does give his words weight, and what he had to say was interesting.

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Although CW’s coverage of composites recycling dates back over a decade, informal statistics still show that only ~2% of composites-related companies are active recyclers. That said, three years since our most recent feature on the subject, there is demonstrably greater interest and activity, and real applications of recycled fiber are growing. This blog summarizes the upcoming article which will appear in print in the July issue of CompositesWorld magazine.

The technologies: different approaches

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Composites continue to make inroads in architecture and construction. At the 2017 American Institute of Architects (AIA, Washington, DC, US) exhibition and conference (Apr 27-29, Orlando, FL, US), the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) Architectural Division exhibited its fourth annual Composites Pavilion, which included Composites Central, a schedule of educational sessions presented by Arch. Div. members, and the second annual COMPOSITES CHALLENGE.

The Composites in Architecture Design Challenge included 1st place winner "MANIFOLD" from Clemson University and 2nd place tie winner "INCUBATOR" from University of Southern California.

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Automated Preforming — The numbers and landscape

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The Quilted Stratum Process (QSP) includes automated assembly of multi-thickness and multi-oriented thermoplastic unidirectional tapes in 40-90 seconds for parts made in 1-2 minute cycle times. It was developed by CETIM (Nantes, France) in partnership with the French government and French composites suppliers including Pinette Emidecau Industries (PEI, Chalon Sur Saone).

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Engineers from +LAB, the 3D printing laboratory of the Politecnico di Milano university in Italy, are looking to redefine composite manufacturing with utilizing 3D printing technology. The research project on continuous fiber composite materials and thermosetting resin is called Atropos, which uses a robotic arm, to 3D-print composites. Atropos is a new six-axis robotic arm that was developed in collaboration with KUKA, for the robotic arm, and Owens Corning, for the glass fiber. The technology was recently recognized as a winner of the JEC Innovation Award in the category of 3D printing.  

According to a news release from +Lab, inspired by nature and silkworms, and controlled by the artifact intelligence of special algorithms, Atropos fluently moves in space depositing a continuous fiber of thermosetting composite material, instantly cured as it comes out of his head.

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