Mikrosam automates thermoplastic composites with toolless multi-robot placement system
Mikrosam (Prilep, Macedonia) introduces an automated process for fabrication of thermoplastic composites without the use of molds or tools. A research project between Mikrosam, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI, San Diego, Calif., U.S.) and Composite Automation LLC (Cape Coral, Fla., U.S.), has resulted in the toolless in-situ consolidation for thermoplastics.
Mikrosam used its advanced systems for automated fiber placement (AFP) and automated tape layup (ATL) to create an integrated manufacturing cell with dual robots working in tandem: one robot lays up thermoplastic unidirectional (UD) tape, another robot acts as a tool opposite the placement head. The movements of the robots are said to be precise and coordinated to obtain spatial 3D in-situ consolidation across multiple layers.
The system is integrated with MikroPlace, Mikrosam's simulation, control and automation software, and MikroAutomate, software which enables multiple robots to work as a single cell to produce a composite part. With this integration, Mikrosam says that it overcame technical challenges to producing 3D composite parts without additional need for an autoclave. The material placed in space can be held together by a metal frame on one or both ends, depending on the desired final shape. This application of thermoplastic carbon fiber 3D printing is targeted at industries such as aerospace and marine, where building a new mandrel or tool isn't always feasible, or where complex or specialized applications may require flexibility. According to Mikrosam, current customers include Tier-1 aerospace suppliers.
The patent-pending, multi-robot 3D printing system leverages Mikrosam's advances in producing in-situ consolidated thermoplastic parts over the last several years. The AFP and ATL systems from Mikrosam include a laser heating source with precise temperature and angle control as well as a closed-loop feedback with thermal models. Another feature is a multi-material AFP head capable of uni- and bi-directional placement on open 3D shapes and closed mandrel surfaces such as pipes and vessels. Simple spool change and replacement of the laser with an infrared heating source are said to reduce the time it takes to switch materials and technology on a single AFP head.
This technology was highlighted at JEC World 2019.
Fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) replacing coated steel in more reinforced-concrete applications.
Thermoplastic tapes are not new to composites, but they soon will join the primary aerostructures material palette and could be their future.
Yes, advanced forms are in development, but has the technology progressed enough to make the business case?