Continuous composites laminating line designed for automotive applications

MAG Industrial Automation Systems has announced the Continuous Laminating Line, a system designed specifically for manufacture of automotive components using MAG's new continuous-fiber thermoplastic and thermoset prepregs.

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MAG Industrial Automation Systems (Hebron, Ky.) has announced the Continuous Laminating Line, a system designed specifically for manufacture of automotive components using MAG's new continuous-fiber thermoplastic and thermoset prepregs. The machine produces thin-walled, structurally engineered parts that are said to meet OEM cost and volume targets. Aimed at vehicle architecture and underbody components, the resulting parts reportedly are 40 to 60 percent lighter than steel and twice as strong as high-strength sheet molding compound (SMC).

"This is game changing technology that bridges the gap between the requirements of the aerospace and automotive industries in terms of material costs, production rates and part-performance requirements," said Dan Allman, director of MAG's Automotive Composites Business Unit.  "In aerospace, material costs are high, production rates low, and performance requirements extremely high, while the automotive industry requires low material costs, high production rates, and performance that meets or exceeds known solutions from the metals world.  Our development target has been a continuous-fiber material cost that works within the automotive OEM's cost model.  From a processing standpoint, we've leveraged MAG's aerospace experience in creating 100-percent oriented-fiber structures, and have now re-defined the application range with new materials and lay-up systems that can hit automotive cost and volume requirements."

According to Allman, MAG concentrated on optimizing the performance of low-cost reinforcements, such as E-glass, though carbon fiber and hybrid materials — thermoset and thermoplastic — can be processed on the new system. The new continuous fiber prepregs MAG has developed reportedly have a much lower coefficient of variation than SMC, with uniform distribution and orientation of the reinforcement, compared to chopped fiber. The prepregs allow high concentrations of the reinforcing materials to be used — up to 70 percent by weight. The laminating technology can orient the fiber to the axes of stress and load of the application.

The materials are out-of-autoclave cured and can be used with aluminum or nickel-shell tooling for low volumes, or steel tooling for high-volume production. Prepreg fiber orientation can be either unidirectional or multi-ply/multiaxial. The material is said to exhibit good shape/drape forming characteristics and has good shelf-life at room temperature.

The Continuous Laminating Line is based on a modular design for scalability. Each module can hold two rolls of material up to 80 inches/2.4m wide or smaller. Inline cutting and splicing allows continuous operation, as well as placement of cross plies to reinforce transitional areas, such as cross-car stiffeners on a floorpan. Modules for placement of core materials to produce sandwich structures are also being developed. In addition, the system offers the ability to lay up various widths in a single part. One module one can process a full-width material, after which a second module can process a narrower material to reinforce a specific area. Exiting the lay-up modules, the material can be cut to net shape via an in-line cutting system. MAG reports that current design/finite element analysis engineering software can model and predict the behavior of components produced with this technology.

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