Leslie Cohen, vice president at HITCO Carbon Composites Inc. (Gardena, Calif., USA), made the keynote speech to launch the 2010 SAMPE Europe conference in Paris on April 12, one day ahead of the JEC Composites show, also in Paris. Cohen provided his perspective on the state of process automation in composites manufacturing. Specifically, he focused on automated fiber placement, which has become one of HITCO's specialties.
In general, Cohen believes that composites automation is still in its infancy, but acknowledged that current automation technology did allow Boeing and Airbus to integrate more composites into their airplanes than ever (787 and A350 XWB). Cohen believes these two planes represent a paradigm shift in commercial aircraft material use, with each comprised of more than 50 percent composites by structural weight.
Further, Cohen believes that hand layout of composite structures is an antiquated manufacturing tool. He said that the value of the global composite aircraft structures market is greater than $4 billion annually, with less than 20 percent of that number represented by stucutures made via hand layup. Further, he believes that Tier III aerospace firms that do hand layup will not survive, with most hand layup work migrating to low-cost countries.
Cohen also provided a break-down of re-occurring costs for a complex composite aerostructure, 50 percent of which (the largest segment) is assigned to an automated manufacturing process. All other processes — including engineering, purchasing, curing, assembly, machining and setup — consume the remaining 50 percent. He believes that successful aerospace composites manufacturers embrace automated processing technology and digital design tools to capitalize on this rapidly evolving market.