Automated composites manufacturing with cure tracking

The Optibox, from Combined Composite Technologies (CCT), is a portable, self-heating, single- or double-sided mold tool with an LCD readout. Interchangeable upper tool configurations enable flexible, rigid, heated and multi-cavity functionality.

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Combined Composite Technologies (CCT), a business unit of Hexion Inc. (Columbus, OH, US), is introducing a programmable logic-controlled (PLC), automated resin curing and molding system. The new self-contained Optibox tool system uses closely tracked data on resin filling and curing to optimize resin processing cycles for greater productivity and better quality laminates in composites manufacturing.

CCT notes that in a typical composite manufacturing process, once a resin infusion tool is closed, there is no way to monitor what is actually happening inside. Processing steps are arbitrarily timed according to the resin manufacturer’s suggestions even though, in actual practice, the optimal timing of these steps can vary. The Optibox tool allows composite manufacturers to automatically track and adjust each step’s timing and heating precisely and trigger the next step as soon as the material is ready. This responsive technology reportedly can improve efficiency through faster cure cycles and help reduce product flaws in preforms, prepreg molding and resin infusion processes, including vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM).

The Optibox tool device is a portable, self-heating, single- or double-sided mold tool with an LCD readout. Interchangeable upper tool configurations enable flexible, rigid, heated and multi-cavity functionality. Once loaded with fiber reinforcement, the Optibox tool enables cycle time optimization by tracking resin filling and curing through a variety of sensors, logging the data for quality assurance. Variables monitored include resin flow, temperature profile over up to twenty zones, extent of mold-filling, gelation, vacuum level, and degree of cure. Multi-zone heat controls respond to sensor feedback, promoting optimized curing to achieve desired part tolerances and finish. The fully programmable cure cycles combined with integrated pre-set or selectable vacuum settings afford the user complete process control. 

CCT says the Optibox tool is designed for small to mid-size composites enterprises as it allows for efficient use of time, space, energy, expense and manpower. Technical educators have also expressed interest, to use the device in lecture hall demonstrations, so students will understand, in detail, how composite processing works.

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