The RITAA project has been established within the framework of the Composites Innovation Cluster (CIC) in the UK, with the purpose to establish a working high pressure resin transfer molding (HP-RTM) facility at Cytec Industrial Materials (Heanor, Derbyshire, UK) and subsequently to develop and demonstrate the effective and affordable manufacture of automotive structural components through HP-RTM.
HP-RTM will be one of a variety of manufacturing solutions employed by OEMs and their suppliers to manufacture automotive structures. Cytec Industrial Materials has developed initial resin formulations designed for this process. However, according to CIC, there is currently very limited access in the UK to laboratory level HP-RTM facilities let alone application (or sub-scale) level facilities. It sees the UK as significantly lagging behind continental Europe (in particular Germany) in this regard, and thus, large-scale facilities are being implemented at the National Composites Centre (NCC, Bristol, UK) and by at least one UK Tier1 automotive supplier.
CIC states that the creation of an HP-RTM facility at Cytec Industrial Materials and resulting increase in technology readiness level (TRL) will significantly improve the UK's technological and commercial competitiveness.
The RITAA project will draw together a partnership of material supplier Cytec Industrial Materials, equipment supplier KraussMaffei (Munich, Germany), tooling supplier Formaplex (Havant, Hampshire, UK), reinforcement supplier FORMAX (Leicester, UK) and simulation experts LMAT (Bristol, UK) who will work collaboratively to implement and commission an operational facility and then to embark upon a process of characterization, simulation and refinement of the materials and process technologies. The outcome of the project will be the manufacture of an automotive structure using optimized materials, process and simulation technologies.
In November 2014, the project team successfully trialed a new HP-RTM tool — the tool was designed and manufactured by Formaplex — at KraussMaffei’s R&D facility in Munich. The project partners believe that this is the first HP-RTM tool designed and manufactured in the UK to be successfully trialed in this way.
A range of 2-mm thick multiaxial carbon fiber preforms were infused with Cytec’s development snap cure resin system. The tool produced perfect development parts ‘out-of-the-box’ that will be sectioned and tested by LMAT to obtain springback data for software correlation. (Springback is a material’s tendency to deviate from the molded shape due to cure shrinkage in the composite.)
The immediate next steps are to complete the alternative thickness inserts to obtain 1.2-mm, 3.2-mm and 4-mm thick components. The partners intend to carry out two more trials for the alternative thicknesses at KraussMaffei and the NCC in the next few months before the Cytec facility comes online.
An automotive production representative component will be selected in collaboration with automotive OEM partners, and a new tool will be designed and manufactured by Formaplex using springback-compensated surfaces calculated by the LMAT simulation tools.