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Engel, Fill develop automated cell for thermoplastic composites

The system combines a tape-laying cell with a consolidation unit to produce fit-for-purpose blanks with 15-30 tapes in 1-minute intervals. 
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Engel tape laying

Source | Engel

Engel Austria (Schwertberg, Austria) and its partner Fill (Gurten, Austria) have announced the development of a production line for the manufacture of thermoplastic composite blanks. To efficiently make the semi-finished products from both glass fiber and carbon fiber-reinforced tapes with a thermoplastic matrix, Engel combined a tape-laying cell with a consolidation unit in an automated production line. Engel says the integrated process can produce fit-for-purpose blanks with 15-30 tapes in 1-minute intervals, for high-volume, cost-effective production. 

To achieve the shortest possible cycle times, the tape-laying cell uses a pick-and-place approach. The individual tapes are picked up, visually checked, placed with closed-loop control and then spot-welded together. Since the quality of the resulting stack largely depends on the accuracy of tape positioning, the cell is equipped with a measuring system that uses high-resolution camera technology and two high-speed robots.

In the consolidation process, says Engel, the stack is laid in a tool and then transferred to the heating station via automation. A contact heater and constant consolidation pressure helps the stack achieve a molten state. The stack is then switched to a cooling station to solidify it. Fully automated, this process maintains thickness variations in the laminate to achieve tailored properties. Further, says Engel, because the stacks obtain the shape required for the component during stacking, there is no need for intermediate trimming. Finally, tailor-made blanks can be shaped and injection overmolded — via Engel’s organomelt process — with reinforcement ribs or construction elements to produce ready-to-install parts.

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