As part of a joint strategic R&D collaboration, Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT, Pfinztal, Germany) will install a RELAY (Rapid, Efficient, Layup) Station 2000 tape-laying system built by Fiberforge Corp. (Glenwood Springs, Colo.) at its state-of-the-art thermoplastics research lab. The June 29 announcement noted that the Fraunhofer-housed RELAY Station will be the first in Europe, offering clients in that region better access to the system’s thermoplastic composite production capabilities.
The programmable RELAY Station, which can produce thermoplastic advanced composite structures upwards of 2m by 2m (6.6 ft by 6.6 ft) in size in a full-scale production work cell, automatically lays up flat tailored multi-ply preforms from unidirectional thermoplastic prepreg tape. The flat blank, then, is typically thermoformed to a final three-dimensional (3-D) part shape, but also can be used as a structural insert in injection and compression molded parts for cost- and shape-stiffness-optimized solutions. The uni tapes combine a reinforcing fiber, such as glass and carbon fiber, with any of a variety of thermoplastic resin types, such as polypropylene, polyamide or polyetheretherketone (PEEK). The tailored blanks can incorporate local variations, in terms of both thickness and fiber orientation, to optimize structural performance. Designed to reduce the labor intensity of prepreg part manufacturing, the system is expected to expand the commercial reach of reinforced thermoplastics into higher volume markets and products.
“With its long history of innovation in thermoplastic composite processing ... and staff of industry-leading composite experts, Fraunhofer ICT was a natural choice for establishing a development and demonstration center in Europe,” says David Cramer, Fiberforge’s chief technology officer. “Through this new partnership, we will be able to work more easily with customers.”
“Combined with our expertise in other thermoplastic processing technologies,” says Fraunhofer ICT’s deputy director Prof. Dr.-Ing. Frank Henning, “Fiberforge’s RELAY Station will expand our portfolio in the research and development of process technologies for fiber-reinforced plastics.”
A detailed description and photos of Relay Station operation can be viewed in CT’s sister magazine High-Performance Composites, link under "Editor's Picks," at right.