CW Blog

Disruptive composite tubing manufacturing

As we get ready for CAMX 2019 (Sep 23-26, Anaheim, Calif., U.S.) — note that CW’s Sep print issue features a 40-page preview of the show — I am looking at the series of blogs that I had planned to publish after last year’s event. Believing that late is better than never, here is the first in that series, which highlights three innovative products and tech you missed if you didn’t attend CAMX last year. I hope these will encourage you to attend this year, but these companies merit your attention in any case.

 

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By: Hannah Mason 9/6/2019

A digital approach to automation

A digital approach to automation

 

Middle River Aerostructure Systems (MRAS; Baltimore, Md., U.S.), manufacturer of composite aerostructures for commercial and military use, decided several years ago that it wanted to improve its bottom line by automating its manufacturing process. The problem was, where to start? MRAS, which produces mostly nacelles and thrust reversers at its 1 million-square-foot Baltimore facility, was using mostly hand layup. However, the company knew that the next step was to invest in automation, which it hoped would eliminate the variability that comes with hand layup and reduce labor costs at the same time.

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By: Karen Mason 9/5/2019

Composite catamaran hits high watermarks

“Speed with fuel economy and ‘ride’ are most valued,” sums up Jim Gardiner, general manager of Compmillennia (Washington, N.C., U.S.), about some of his offshore boating customers’ desires. When most boat designers discuss these three characteristics, it is in the context of tradeoffs and compromises — sacrificing fuel economy for speed, for example, or speed for ride comfort. So when Gardiner set out to achieve high speeds, great fuel efficiency and an outstanding ride experience, all in one boat, he knew that creative innovation would be mandatory. Composites technology proved essential to Gardiner’s success.

The result is the Compmillennia LIGHTSPEED Model 1188 catamaran, a 39-foot center console designed for offshore fishing parties of six or eight anglers, or excursions with up to 16 family members and friends. The boat’s unusually wide beam — 12 feet for the first in the series and now up to 14 feet — provides excellent stability as well as plenty of room for people and gear. With just two 300-horsepower engines, the double-hulled 1188 offers a top speed of more than  60 miles per hour, nearly matching the top speed of large V-bottom center console boats equipped with triple or quad 300-horsepower engines. “Larger V-bottoms need a lot of engine horsepower to push their length through the water,” Gardiner notes, “and more horsepower equals more weight, more cost, larger vehicles to tow and more fuel.”

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The case for recycled carbon fiber is a complicated one. The industry is built on the hope of solving problems — namely, the desire to keep carbon fiber waste out of landfills and to fill a potential gap between carbon fiber supply and demand. It is commonly estimated that around 30% of produced carbon fiber ends up as waste. Meanwhile, as valuable material ends up in landfills, most analysts agree that annual demand for the material could surpass current annual production capacity within the next few years. The average estimated global carbon fiber demand is around 65,000-85,000 metric tonnes per year, with a global nameplate capacity (which is more than actual capacity) of around 150,000 metric tonnes, according to estimates presented by Brett Schneider, president, global fibers, Hexcel (Stamford, Conn., U.S.) and Dan Pichler, managing director of CarbConsult GmbH (Hofheim am Taunus, Germany) at the December 2018 Carbon Fiber conference. As reported by CW contributor Amanda Jacob in March, some analysts estimate that carbon fiber demand could exceed supply by about 24,000 metric tonnes by 2022. (see “Building confidence in recycled carbon fiber.”

And while commercial suppliers of recycled carbon fiber (rCF) point to reclaimed and repurposed material as a potential solution to this supply and demand gap, the rCF industry has its own challenges. While the technology to recycle carbon fiber composites has existed for several years and is capable of yielding a product with mechanical properties very near that of virgin material, the composites recycling industry is relatively young and is still in the early stages of developing markets for the materials it produces from recyclate. As confidence in the quality of fiber being produced by recyclers increases, questions about cost and availability have come to the forefront. Perhaps the largest challenge for the industry is the concern over supply chain security. 

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