Automated composite manufacturing for producing cost-effective products

Students researching automated composite manufacturing via laptop for producing cost-effective products

Composites have long been familiar materials in manufacturing. They are very lightweight and have many benefits over conventional materials, but are also more expensive to produce. The application of composite materials has a mainly constructional background and they are more likely to be found in industries where being lightweight is more important than being inexpensive.

The importance of automated composite manufacturing

The manufacturing processes for composites are very complex. The correct handling of the fibre structures is difficult to define in terms of process technology. But if these processes are automated by machines, the manufacturing costs can be reduced in the long run, which is the reason for the high price of composite products.

The reason why manufacturing costs are so high

Composite materials are made of different components. The two main components are carbon (CFRP) or glass (GFRP), and the second one is a plastic matrix that provides stability and protection for the fibres. The difficulty in the production lies in depositing the fibres in a structured manner and adding the plastic matrix. There are many possibilities for this, but they are still very complex and expensive. The aim of the industry is to automate the joining of the two components in an overall process.

The solution

An established solution is the so-called prepreg material. This fibre composite plastic can be purchased as a pre-impregnated semi-finished product (also called tapes) with different mixing radios of reinforcing fibres and matrices. As the fibres are unidirectional to the tapes, there are already various processes that strategically lay the tapes. In recent years, many manufacturers have dealt with automation and have developed well-known processes such as Automated Tape Laying (ATL) or Automated Fibre Placement (AFP). 

Automation in fibre composite technology is an important step towards manufacturing more cost-effective products. However, there are still too many parameters and dependencies for a functioning product, which represent obstacles in automated process chains.



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