Highlights: SAMPE Tech 2012, Charleston, S.C.

SAMPE Tech 2012 was held in Charleston, S.C., USA, Oct. 22-25. CompositesWorld was there and offers a review of news and presentations from the conference.

As expected for an event held in Charleston, a representative from The Boeing Co.’s nearby plant, William Geary, presented the Tuesday morning keynote address. Head of the Mid/Aft Body Assembly and Integration group, Geary first showed a video produced by Boeing showing the construction of the plant building, the installation of equipment, and the fabrication activities within, ending with the flight of a 787 Dreamliner assembled in Charleston. While his speech was abbreviated, many questions came from the standing-room-only crowd, including one about the challenges of joining the fuselage barrel sections. Geary confirmed that metal strips or rings were ultimately needed to join the sections together, that shims are required in some cases to address gaps and that having multiple providers of barrel sections has been a challenge during assembly. He also indicated that Boeing is looking for ways to take additional weight out of the plane going forward, and mentioned out-of-autoclave cure technology as an “evolutionary” step towards faster processing. In answer to a query about ramping up rate production, Geary replied, “We need more innovation in manufacturing,” and he cited a goal of 120 lb/hr or more for automated composites manufacturing processes. He hinted that Boeing is close to approaching that rate, and that technologies have been licensed to machine tool manufacturers, but that machine makers in his opinion are “not incentivized” to reach that sort of rate, since fewer machines will be needed. Geary also had definite thoughts about damage detection, assessment and repair strategies. Speed is of the essence, he emphasized, and wished that NDT methods were faster and less capital intensive. He described Boeing’s bolt-on repair schemes as well as scarf repairs, and a plan to photograph the damage, have a repair kit put together and sent quickly to the plane for application. Also on his wish list: “quick turn” tooling for smaller parts needed for repair of grounded aircraft, which might mean additive manufacturing. He also alluded to “drawing board aircraft” for the future that will consider a range of materials, including thermoplastics, if the economics are there. “We’re not turning our backs on composites,” he assured the audience.

Many excellent presentations were offered, on topics from analysis, bio-derived materials, damage prediction, high-temperature materials, automotive composites technologies — chaired by Matthias Berghahn of Creavis, the strategic research and development unit of Evonik Industries AG (Marl, Germany), a topic that CompositesWorld is following closely — nano-modified composites and processing advancements. An afternoon panel focused on U.S. Export Control compliance and the challenges faced by companies today, even those that do no business abroad. Challenges and best practices were offered to help attendees navigate this complex topic for advanced composites manufacturers.

Wednesday morning’s keynoter was Bill Fitzgerald, vice president and general manager of commercial engines operation at GE Aviation (Cincinnati, Ohio). He gave a history of GE’s involvement in the jet engine market, and reminded the audience that the first composite fan blades in an engine appeared in 1988. The GEnx engine’s 15 percent lower fuel burn thanks to significant weight savings has been made possible with composites. “There has never been an Airworthiness Directive on a composite fan blade,” he emphasized, citing his company’s commitment to growing the use of composites in ever-hotter engine sections, including ceramic matrix composites in the high-pressure turbine area. He encouraged those in the audience to “keep innovating” and continue to develop new technology.

Of interest was a session devoted to composite railroad ties, with information presented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (ERDC-CERL, Champaign, Ill., USA) and TieTek North America LLC (Houston, Texas, USA). The session focused on the challenges of producing railroad ties from recycled plastic materials that can withstand the performance requirements in service. Other infrastructure-related sessions included durability of externally-bonded carbon/epoxy strips and timber bridge designs that incorporate composites. In another interesting session, Dr. Uday Vaidya of the University of Alabama at Birminghan moderated, along with Terry Tsuchiyama of The Boeing Co., laser processing of thermoplastics, including laser welding. Vaidya also chaired another group of thermoplastics-related papers, including a presentation by Materials Innovation Technologies LLC (MIT, Fletcher, N.C.), co-authored by Vaidya, on the use of MIT’s recycled carbon fiber material in long fiber thermoplastic composites.

There was strong interest at the conference in the development of out-of-autoclave (OOA) bismaleimide resin systems. TenCate Advanced Composites (Morgan Hill, Calif., USA) introduced at the show TC800 BMI, an OOA prepreg resin system for use with carbon fiber tape or fabric. It’s designed for low-vacuum bag cure processing with an initial cure of 350°F/177°C and free-standing post-cure up to 475°F/246°C for higher Tg. TenCate reports low void content in laminates of up to 32 plies. Suggested applications include missile parts, rocket or space vehicles, high-temperature jet engines parts and tooling. In a conference session, Chris Ridgard of Umeco/Cytec (Tulsa, Okla., USA; Heanor, U.K.; Tempe, Ariz., USA) announced that his firm is in the process of developing an OOA BMI that features good hot/wet performance and easy machinability. Ridgard said the first product to market likely will target tooling applications. Ridgard said that thermal cycling of tooling laminates was in progress and had so far reached 200 cycles without any evidence of microcracking or degradation. Umeco/Cytec, he said, continue to work on other aspects of the material, including OOA process validation, sandwich process development, compatible adhesives and material allowable databases.

As always at a composites conference, the carbon fiber panel on the schedule proved popular with attendees. Representatives of Toho Tenax, Hexcel, DowAksa, Hyosung Carbon Fiber and SGL Group gave brief summaries of their companies and recent business activities, followed by Q&A with the audience. Joel Payne, of Toho Tenax (Tokyo, Japan), said the company estimates current market demand for carbon fiber is about 50,000 tonnes/year, and expects this number to triple by 2020. Tom Haulik, of Hexcel (Stamford, Conn., USA), said his firm has nameplate capacity of 4,536 tonnes/year of carbon fiber, and expects that number to double by 2016. He said new carbon fiber manufacturing lines are two to four times larger than legacy lines. D.J. DeLong, of DowAksa (Istanbul, Turkey), reviewed his company’s place in the market — a 50/50 joint venture of resin specialist Dow and Turkish carbon fiber manufacturer Aksa. DowAksa, he said, is targeting industrial end markets and currently has capacity of about 3,500 tonnes/year. Aksa, the world’s largest producer of acrylic — which is used as a precursor in carbon fiber manufacturing — has enough of the material to produce 50,000 to 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon fiber per year, DeLong reported. Paul Kennedy, of Hyosung Carbon Fiber (Seoul, South Korea), said his company’s nameplate capacity is 544 metric tonnes, but that will increase to 2,540 metric tonnes by the end of first quarter/beginning second quarter 2013 as a new plant comes online. Hyosung is targeting industrial end markets. Alex Locke, of SGL Group (Wiesbaden, Germany), reported that his firm has completed acquisition of Portuguese precursor manufacturer Fisipe and now has 7,000 metric tonnes of nameplate carbon fiber capacity. He noted that SGL’s joint venture with BMW Group (Munich, Germany), SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, is adding production lines Moses Lake, Wash., USA, which will bring capacity to 9,000 metric tonnes. He said the Moses Lake site likely will see the addition of one line a year for a total of eight lines at the location. Q&A focused in part on the challenge of material qualification by carbon fiber manufacturers. Haulik said Hexcel would like to see some certification standardization among carbon fiber customers so as to streamline material commercialization. 

On the exhibit floor, approximately 150 companies showcased innovative products and services. New companies included Niles NanoFabrix (Niles, Ohio), which has a new, thin and reportedly cost-effective sheet product comprised of nano-particles for lightning strike protection, EMI shielding and de-icing applications as an alternative to expanded metallic mesh. Zeus Inc. (Orangeburg, S.C.), at the show for the first time, demonstrated a fluoropolymer heat-shrink tubing for use as a release aid for mandrel tooling, for processing temperatures up to 700°F/371°C. 

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