And the winners of the excellence in composites innovation awards are . . .

  • Cecense

    The 2019 JEC Innovation Awards, recognizing innovation in composites technologies, were unveiled at JEC World 2019 in Paris last month. Winners included a zero-defect manufacturing process for large parts, self-reinforcing PLA-based composites and bendable reinforcements for use in concrete. The jury chose winners in 10 categories, all featured in this slide show, but we begin with the people’s choice award.

    FST-compliant, 16g composite aero seat back from Cecence (Lopcombe, UK) and partners Acro Aircraft Seating Ltd. and FTI.

    The hot-compression-molded, fully composite 16g carbon seatback includes built-in FST compliance, negating the need for fireproofing, and is paint-ready out of the mold. The seat back is an integral part of Acro’s Airbus line and is now in service. It provides the aircraft operator with a product that is aesthetically pleasing with a smooth finish and that achieves the weight target.

    The material allowed Acro’s design engineers to create shapes that would not have been possible using metal and to make space savings on the aircraft to allow for increased passenger comfort. The technological breakthrough of the innovation is both in the rapid manufacturing process and the resulting seat back with built-in FST compliance.

  • Herone and Victrex

    Award for aerospace application: Injection forming of CF-PAEK composite profiles with CF-PEEK by Herone (Sachsen, Germany) and partners TU Dresden and Victrex Europa.

    The thermoplastic drive-shaft system overmolded with an integral gear, designed for use in aerospace, holds enormous potential, according to materials supplier Victrex.

    The drive shaft is formed from “organoTubes,” braided preforms made from fully consolidated thermoplastic UD tapes; in this case, VICTREX AE 250 unidirectional tape, a carbon-fiber-PAEK composite. The process was developed by the Institute of Lightweight Engineering and Polymer Technology, TU Dresden, and Herone GmbH for use in the manufacture of continuous-carbon-fiber-PAEK composite hollow profiles. The organoTubes are then overmolded with Victrex PEEK 90HMF40, a carbon-fiber-PEEK composite, to incorporate the gear.

  • Profactor

    Award for aerospace process: Zero-defect manufacturing process developed by Profactor GmbH (Austria) and partners Airbus Defence and Space, Danobat, Dassault Systemes, FIDAMC- Fundación para la Investigación, Desarrollo y Aplicación de Materiales Compuestos, Ideko S. COOP, InFactory Solutions and M. Torres Diseños Industriales SA.

    The zero-defect manufacturing process for large composite parts uses inline monitoring and decision support systems to avoid discovering defects at the end of the process during final non-destructive testing.

    An inline quality control system scans the material during the lay-up process, providing immediate feedback about any quality issues that might exist. Once the layer is finished, the machine operator can immediately initiate rework, if required, or continue with the next layer.

    Through the integration of a sensor, the flow-front during infusion, temperature and state of cure can be measured along the whole sensor (not just in single positions).

    Defect data are collected in a manufacturing database that is then used with finite-element methods to calculate the impact of defects on the part’s mechanical strength.

    A decision support tool merges all of the data and combines them with a logistical part flow simulation. This information is presented to the operator to help decide about different rework strategies. Through these process monitoring steps, a wide range of typical defects can be detected and reworked, if needed, so that substantially fewer (if any) defects show up during end-of-line inspection.

  • Polyscope Polymers

    Award for automotive application: Composite guide rails for a roller-blind sunroof, developed by Polyscope Polymers (Geleen, Netherlands).

    Reportedly the first time a thermoplastic composite has successfully replaced aluminum in this type of application, the composite guide rails were applied to the panoramic roof of Renault's Scenic and Grand Scenic multipurpose vehicles. They have been in commercial production since 2016.

    The move from aluminum extrusions to thermoplastic composites lowered part weight and operating noise, simplified sunroof construction and installation on the vehicle assembly line, reduced costs and increased headspace in the passenger compartment, according to Polyscope. Automotive roof systems supplier Webasto engineered the injection molded rails to include a high level of functional integration while simultaneously reducing part count, assembly operations and manufacturing time, cost and complexity, said Polyscope.

    Xiran SGH30EB, a fiberglass-reinforced copolymer of styrene maleic anhydride and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (GR-SMA/ABS) from Polyscope, was optimized to ensure high bond strength to the polyurethane adhesive used to mount the glass to the module and the module to the body-in-white roof structure, and to ensure dimensional stability critical for smooth operation of the rollerblind.

    Tooling by AARK-Shapers enabled eight GR-SMA/ABS composite parts for the sunroof module to be molded in a family tool that also featured modular blocks, allowing the rails to be molded in the same tool. Each rail was molded in two pieces and ultrasonically welded after demolding.

    The sunroof system is delivered to the Renault plant fully assembled and pretested; it is robotically bonded to the roof, eliminating two to three assembly steps.

  • Evopro Systems

    Award for automotive process: Rapid manufacturing of complex thermoplastic composites by Evopro Systems Engineering (Budapest) and partners eCon Engineering, HD Composite, Université de technologie et d'économie de Budapest, Faculté de génie mécanique, et Académie hongroise des sciences, Centre de recherche en sciences naturelles.

    Evopro’s R&D program focuses on high-speed, automated composite production for automotive applications. To produce structural composite parts based on a PA6 matrix, the company used thermoplastic resin transfer molding (T-RTM) with in-situ polymerization of E. caprolactam, supported by fully automated preforming according to Industry 4.0 principles.

    Evopro reported that it made significant advances in creating homogeneous PA6 sandwich structures and in the application of a PA6 in-mold coating to create a near Class A surface on the product.

    Sandwich structures are very important for the dimensional stiffness of low-density composite parts, said Evopro. PA6 foam cores can be used for PA6-based composites to create homogeneous sandwich structures for optimal recyclability, a key factor in automotive applications.

  • Arkema

    Award for construction and infrastructure: Bendable thermoplastic composite reinforcements for concrete from Arkema (Colombes, France) and partners National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Sireg and the University of Miami.

    Arkema and Sireg (Arcore, Italy) collaborated in the development and manufacture of composite reinforcement bars, or rebars, for concrete as well as cables in pre-stressed concrete applications using Arkema’s Elium thermoplastic resin instead of conventional thermosetting solutions.

    Composite rebars and cables do not rust or corrode, are relatively insensitive to snow‐clearance salts and chemicals used for de‐icing, and have a desirable weight-to-strength ratio. These properties make the products an economically viable and more effective alternative to epoxy‐coated steel rebars when life-cycle costs are taken into consideration, according to the companies.

    Composite reinforcement also allows the use of seawater instead of fresh water and the deployment of aggregates contaminated with salt in concrete mixing. The implications are significant for coastal or arid areas of the world where fresh water is scarce.

    Unlike most thermoplastic resins, Elium can be easily processed through traditional pultrusion using standard equipment, said Arkema.

    Elium‐based rebars and cables can be re‐heated and easily shaped or bent, reducing the cost of supplying rebars with custom shapes.

    The use of composite materials for concrete pre-stressing is a major innovation, according to the companies, advancing the durability of concrete to a level not seen since its invention in the 1930s by Eugène Freyssinet.

  • Technical University of Denmark

    Award for sustainability: Self-reinforced PLA composites for use in sports, automotive and medical applications from the Technical University of Denmark and partners Centexbel, Comfil and the Fraunhofer Institute.

    Composite materials developed in the Bio4self project are fully bio-based, easily recyclable, re-shapable and even industrially biodegradable. The composites are produced using only poly(lactic acid), or PLA, a thermoplastic bio-polyester derived from renewable resources such as agricultural waste, non-food crops and sugar cane.

    Apart from some medical uses such as tissue scaffolds, PLA currently has limited applications. By combining two types of PLA to form so-called self-reinforced PLA composites (PLA SRPC), Bio4self has expanded the applications of PLA to automotive parts and home appliances, to give just two examples.

    Two different PLA grades are required to produce SRPCs—a low-melting-temperature grade to form the matrix and an ultra-stiff and high-melting-temperature grade for the reinforcing fibres.

    Bio4self reportedly had to overcome several challenges related to the production of PLA SRPC: Formulating a moisture- and humidity-resistant grade; achieving melt extrusion of ultra-stiff reinforcement fibres; development of an appropriate manufacturing process; and industrial scale-up of production.

    Self-reinforced PLA composites reportedly achieve a stiffness comparable to self-reinforced PP, but the PLA SRPC has the advantage of using renewable materials with a better end-of-life scenario.

  • KTM-Technologies

    Award for sports and healthcare: The first structural composite skid plate produced using an FMC/NCF/elastomer hybrid by KTM-Technologies (Anif, Austria) and partner Mitsubishi Chemical Carbon Fiber and Composites.

    A new hybridized carbon skid plate for motorcycles was successfully developed for serial production by KTM-Technologies and Mitsubishi Chemical in a short timeframe and is produced in a one-shot serial production process at cycle times under four minutes. The composite look is created using a carbon-forged molding compound (FMC) for the main part, non-crimp fibers (NCF) for local reinforcements and elastomers for local damping.

    Combining the materials in a single, fully automated process step enables a new generation of sustainable composite structures offering huge design freedom, according to KTM-Technologies.

    Assembly is achieved by means of a direct chemical bond between different thermosets and elastomers without additional joining processes. This process also allows the manufacture of most materials and parts in one location, thus saving transportation costs, emissions and time.

    Compared with skid plates made from aluminum, CFRP fabrics or plastic, the hybrid part is as light as a standard CFRP solution and lighter than plastic or aluminum, but is 50% cheaper.

  • Continuous Composites

    Award for 3D printing: A continuous-fiber process that combines composite materials and 3D printing to dramatically reduce cost and lead times developed by Continuous Composites (Coeur d’Alene, ID) and partners Air Force Research Lab,  FCA/Comau, Lockheed Martin and Siemens.

    Rather than using costly prepreg fiber, patented continuous-fiber 3D-printing (CF3D) technology uses high-performance, dry continuous fibers that are impregnated with a rapid-curing thermoset inside the print head. The head is attached to an industrial robot controlled by the company’s CF3D software. The fully-impregnated fiber is pulled through the print head where, upon discharge, a high-intensity energy source is directed at the wet fiber, instantly curing it and producing a true 3D composite part. Because the fiber is cured immediately after discharge, CF3D technology does not require the use of molds or support materials.

    The technology enables on-the-fly design changes, reduces lead times and allows complex designs to be printed with strong and light composite materials. CF3D is not limited to stacking 2D laminates and can print fibers out of the x-y plane into the z direction. This opens design possibilities and enables load-path optimization by discretely printing fibers in the direction of principal stresses and strains. Multiple parts can be consolidated, eliminating some fasteners and making parts lighter and more efficient.

  • Stratiforme Industries

    Award for land transportation: A universal composite catenary cantilever from Stratiforme Industries (Bersée, France) and partners Armines Douai, CEF Centre d'essais ferroviaires and SNCF Réseau.

    ACCUM is a universal composite catenary cantilever validated from 750 V to 25 kV and suitable for all standard and specific rail-track profiles.

    Stratiforme Industries said that it improved the inner dielectric and mechanical properties of the composite material to an unprecedented level for a sheet molded compound (SMC) part. The SMC part was thoroughly tested for 10 years in collaboration with SNCF (electrical) and Armines (mechanical) to prove its suitability for use as a stand-alone insulator on multi-voltage catenary systems.

    Different environmental protection coatings were developed and tested on tracks with the support of the CEF testing centre. More than 100 prototypes are currently on test tracks in France.

    Benefits include accelerated installation and maintenance and a reduction in componentry from more than 100 parts to just over 10.

  • AZL Aachen

    Award for industry and equipment: A modular system for the mass production of individual tailored blanks developed by AZL Aachen (Aachen, Germany) and partners Conbility, Covestro, Engel, Evonik Industries, Fagor Arrasate S. Coop., Faurecia SE, Fraunhofer IPT, Laserline, Mitsui Chemicals Europe, Mubea Carbo Tech, Philips Photonics, SSDT Shanghai Superior Die Technology Co. and Toyota Motor Europe.

    The latest laminate production technologies using thermoplastic tapes are limited in terms of productivity because the table-based processing principle uses a moving table or robotics in combination with a tape placement applicator system. The process is very flexible but is not suitable for mass production.

    A new ultra-fast consolidator machine offers both flexibility and mass production capabilities. Fully consolidated multi-layer laminates with different fiber directions and minimal waste (tailored blanks) can be produced in cycle times under 5 seconds for the first time. This is accomplished by a new piece-flow principle, which is state of the art in the printing industry but has not been used in composite production.

    The production principle is based on moving carrier plates for the transportation of the laminates, which are fed through several applicator stations. Each station is equipped with narrow applicator cassettes for laser-assisted tape placement with on-the-fly cut-and-add. The cassettes are 50 mm wide and can process a tape width of 25 mm. Larger tape widths are also possible as the applicator cassettes are scalable.

    The cassettes in each station can be relocated in the y direction right before the moving carriers are fed through the applicator station in the x direction. Before each station, the carrier can be turned at a precise angle so that each applicator station can process one tape direction (fiber angle). Multiple stations can be added to the modular system, or the machine can be configured with one or two applicator stations with a conveyor carrousel, where the carriers are moved multiple times through the stations.

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