Camera-based ply placement cuts time, cost on complex rotorcraft parts

Applied Composites Engineering (ACE, Indianapolis, Ind.) uses PlyMatch ply placement technology from Anaglyph Ltd. (London, U.K.) to speed layup of the complex-shaped, heated inlet for a de-icing system on the AW169 helicopter, from AgustaWestland (Cascina Costa di Samarate, Italy).
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Applied Composites Engineering (ACE – Applied Composites Engineering, Indianapolis, Ind.) is manufacturing a heated inlet, part of a proprietary anti-icing system designed by Cox & Co. (Plainview, N.Y.) for AgustaWestland’s (Cascina Costa di Samarate, Italy) new twin-engine, medium-lift AW189 helicopter. 

ACE uses PlyMatch ply placement technology from Anaglyph Ltd. (London, U.K.) to speed layup of the complex-shaped part and eliminate costly secondary assembly and bonding. PlyMatch uses a “smart” digital camera to acquire a live video image of the part, while its position and direction in space are specified by a coordinate measuring machine (CMM). Data from both devices are continuously fed into a computer, which then successively generates images of the fabric plies, in sequence, for layup. The computer-generated image of each ply is superimposed onto the live video image from the camera, giving a virtual-reality (Anaglyph calls it “augmented reality”) compound picture. Alternatively, a complete video recording of the layup operation may be saved to hard disk, showing any deviations from nominal ply position or fiber orientation. The system also can be used to locate manufacturing or assembly-sequence features, such as inserts, bolt holes or labels.

The PlyMatch system is available in flexible configurations to meet the specific requirements of each manufacturer, but includes as a minimum: A PC with display, a digital camera with boom stand, a CMM with wireless and tool reference probes, placement software, Anaglyph’s Laminate Tools software for video and CMM probe interfaces and image blending and onsite training.

Unlike laser-based ply projection systems, PlyMatch is self-calibrating: Operators can move the camera or the mold without loss of system accuracy. According to Leigh Sargent, president of ACE, “We undertake many complex composite fabrications where laser projection is inadequate. The three PlyMatch systems we have in place are utilized daily, eliminating expensive templates and radically decreasing time to first article delivery.” He adds, “The ability of the operator to move the mold when working with these intricate parts is another advantage, particularly in parts like complex ducting.”