Engel’s Automated Composite-Blank Production Line Earns JEC Innovation Award

A technology that automates the production of custom composite blanks developed by Engel and partner company Fill has been named one of the winners of the 2020 JEC Innovation Awards program. Ordinarily, the annual awards are presented at the JEC World trade fair, but these are not ordinary times. The event was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the awards were announced on May 13 during an online ceremony.

Composite production line
The integrated production cell produces custom thermoplastic blanks in cycle times ranging from one to three minutes. Image courtesy Engel.

Tailor-made composite blanks help leverage the lightweight design potential of parts, said Engel in a press release announcing the award. To efficiently make semi-finished products from both glass- and carbon-fiber-reinforced tapes with a thermoplastic matrix, the Austrian injection molding machine manufacturer combined a tape-laying cell with a consolidation unit in a highly automated production line. The integrated process can produce fit-for-purpose blanks with 15 to 30 tapes in one-minute intervals. The throughput and efficiency of the process led the international jury to reward Engel and Fill in the process category of the competition.

To minimize cycle times, individual tape layers are picked up, visually checked, placed with closed-loop control, and spot-welded together in the cell. Since the quality of the resulting stack depends on the accuracy of tape positioning, Engel equipped the laying cell with a measuring system that uses high-resolution camera technology and two high-speed robots.

Engel and its partner Fill, a mechanical engineering company also based in Austria, developed the production unit based on a heating/cooling approach for the consolidation process that follows immediately downstream. In a fully-automated process, this system consolidates the fibre stacks into a solid panel, while retaining thickness variations generated in a targeted manner.

Because the stacks already have the outer contour required for the part when they are deposited, the tailor-made blanks can be shaped and functionalized immediately after consolidation via Engel’s “organomelt” process.

The technology benefits the automotive and aviation industries as well as the sports and healthcare sectors.

Engel and Fill signed a partnership agreement in 2014 with the goal of collaborating in the production of turnkey systems for the industrial manufacture of fiber-reinforced plastic components.

The annual JEC Innovation Awards recognize technological excellence and originality in the composites arena as well as cooperation between different players in the value chain.

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