High-speed carbon fiber composite manufacturing process

Performance Materials Corp. has developed a material and process that allows it to produce lightweight, stiff carbon fiber notebook computer covers in less than 2 minutes using an innovative compression molding/inductive heating system.

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Thomas Smith, president of Performance Materials Corp. (PMC, Camarillo, Calif.) explained his company's efforts to develop a material and process for the high-speed manufacture of carbon fiber composite notebook computer covers. Smith said his company is targeting metal replacement in notebook computers, targeting 10 percent weight savings compared to magnesium, greater stiffness than magnesium, good surface quality, cost about the same as magnesium, a 2-minute cycle time, and a process that allows integration of other parts and materials.

The market for notebook computers is substantial, with 200 million expected to be sold in 2010. Metal covers are expected to be used on 76 million units; carbon fiber is expected to be used on 24 million units, with total carbon fiber consumption of about 4 million lb/1.8 million kg.

Working with RocTool's Cage System (compression molding with induction-based heating and cooling), PMC has developed a material/fiber combination that it appears to allow the company to meet many, if not all, of its goals for production of a carbon fiber composite cover. The system uses a thermoplastic alloy (PC/ABS) film that is kitted in combination with a continuous, unidirectional carbon fiber tape for the main structure, with some chopped carbon fiber for detail sections. This kit is then placed in a compression molding machine outfitted with RocTool's Cage System. The inductive coil allows the tool surface to cycle from 60°C/140°F to 250°C/482°F and back to 60°C/140°F in less than 2 minutes.

The resulting part, said Smith, weighs 17 percent less than a competing magnesium or aluminum cover, has 15 percent greater stiffness, has equal thickness (1 mm), complex details, good surface finish and a sub-2-minute cycle time. The only challenge remaining, reported Smith, are problems with tooling durability.

For now, Smith said PMC is in low-rate initial production and in January 2010 will open a development site in Taiwan. This is to be followed in lat 2010 with a full-scale production facility in China.