Many automated solutions for faster production were on offer throughout JEC Europe 2015 (March 10-12), and several companies made announcements.
North Thin Ply Technology (NTPT, Penthalaz-Cossonay, Switzerland), known for its ultra-thin ThinPreg multiaxial prepregs, made in an automated process involving proprietary fiber spreading paired with automated tape laying (ATL) technology, can produce tapes with areal weight as low as 17 gsm. At the show, NTPT announced a “drastically” increased production capacity with a new ATL machine (designed and developed in-house) at its Polish facility. NTPT tapes were used to create the wings of the Solar Impulse aircraft currently attempting an around-the-world solar-powered flight.
MTorres (Torres de Elorz, Navarra, Spain) revealed a huge new automated ATL head, called The Harvester, for massive production of flat (2-D) or slightly curved parts at a rate of 250m2/hr. Intended to decrease material costs and cycle times, the head is a multi-tape design that holds four 150-mm-wide tapes, creating a 600-mm bandwidth. The concept eliminates the cost of pre-slit tapes, and reportedly reduces scrap rates significantly, since laydown can be reduced to one tape at the end of a course.
Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc. (Rockford, IL, US) announced its collaboration with The Robert E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research at the University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC, US) and Hexcel Corp. (Stamford, CT, US) to further develop the dry fiber placement process for aerospace production. Ingersoll is the first U.S.-based automated fiber placement (AFP) supplier to work with Hexcel’s HiTape dry fiber product. A Lynx AFP machine at The McNair Center will produce layups for infusion to investigate fiber steering and thick structures. Fraunhofer IPT (Aachen, Germany) introduced a new multi-material fiber placement system head, dubbed Multi-Material-Head, which can process all types of composite materials, from thermoplastic tapes, to thermoset prepreg towpreg to dry fiber rovings. The modular head is reportedly easy to customize to the material, and heat sources (laser, hot air or infrared) can be switched out as needed. The flexible system is aimed at small batch production or R&D, says the institute. Martin Keaney, executive director of the lab, says it was designed for "open and proprietary research. It was built with industry in mind, to provide a controlled, secure environment." Doing a lot of the work in the lab will be Michel JL van Tooren, professor, aerospace systems design and structures, who used to work at Fokker Aerostructures (Hoogeveen, The Netherlarnds) and helped develop that company's thermoplastic bonding systems. He's bringing that expertise to the lab and will work there on indirect induction welding and ultrasonic welding technologies. "The goal," he says, "is to get rid of mechanical fasteners."