New technologies from REFORM project may reduce costs of composites

The project focused on improving the environmental performance of composite components along the lifecycle from production to disposal.

New technologies and techniques that could reduce the cost and environmental impact of using composites are entering production following the completion of a four-year European research project, involving the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing (Everett, WA, US).

The REFORM project has reportedly cut the energy used in some processes by more than 50%, reduced production costs by more than 45% and increased recycling of some consumables and raw materials to around 95%.

Nine companies from five countries and four research organizations from different countries, took part in the project, funded by the European 7th Framework Factory of the Future Programme and sparked by the increasing use of fiber-reinforced composites to replace metals in the transport and construction industries.

REFORM coordinator Rosemary Gault, from the AMRC, said: “REFORM focused on four areas – forming, machining, assembly and recycling – to make sure gains made in one area did not lead to waste and inefficiency elsewhere. The project has created a series of new technologies and techniques that are ready to be introduced by industry and could make a significant contribution to cutting the cost and environmental impact of the growing use of composites.”

Work on forming using laser-assisted tape lay-up and augmented reality led to significant reductions in energy requirements, scrap, time and labor costs. As a result, lay-up systems with advanced control are now being made available to composite manufacturers.

Research into water jet machining of components resulted in up to 95 percent recovery of water and abrasives, a reduction of up to 75 percent in machine and delivery times and less scrap. New recycling, cutting head, positioning and fixturing systems will be made available to industry, along with a novel waterjet nozzle that could double cutting speeds for the same energy.

The industry will also benefit from the development of modular, lightweight, reconfigurable composite fixturing and tooling under the project’s assembly theme, which reduced the manufacturing time for new tooling by around 70 percent and cut tooling costs by 90 percent and more, while also reducing the time to ramp up production and cycle times.

As a result of the research, it is now possible to recycle scrap material and turn it into boards that can be used to make parts, new tooling, replacements for fixtures and for any application where flat boards and assemblies are required.

Meanwhile, work on methods for recycling laminates and fibers succeeded in producing material using up to 80 percent less energy at about a fifth of the cost of virgin fiber.

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