Sabic showcases automated system for rapid composite manufacturing

Sabic celebrated a major milestone for its ground-breaking Digital Composites Manufacturing line here at JEC World 2019 in France recently. The company, in collaboration with Airborne and powered by Siemens and Kuka technologies, has successfully completed the pilot phase of the world’s first automated digital system for rapid, large-scale laminate manufacturing using Sabic’s continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite tape.

Sabic highlighted, in collaboration with Airborne, its Digital Composites Manufacturing line through a 360-degree virtual reality experience at the recent 2019 JEC World Exhibition in France.

Plans for the new system were originally announced at JEC World 2018 and now, Sabic and Airborne are beginning the transition to full-scale production, which is slated for the end of 2019. To preview this unique system, Sabic presented a 360-degree virtual reality experience called “Innovations of Scale” at its JEC World stand.

The new automated digital manufacturing system was built at Airborne’s facility in The Netherlands and is capable of producing four thermoplastic composite laminates every 60 seconds, totaling up to 1.5 million parts annually. Potential applications include cases and covers for consumer electronics, aircraft inserts, automotive components and sports goods.

“Composites offer amazing properties found in no other materials such as extreme strength and ultra-low weight for diverse applications, ranging from wind turbine blades to sporting goods,” said Gino Francato, Global Business Leader, Advanced Composites, Sabic. “Until now, however, their adoption has been restricted because of time-consuming, inefficient and expensive processes. By focusing on new materials and manufacturing automation to overcome these hurdles, the industry will make tremendous strides; and it is precisely efforts such as our collaboration with Airborne that are helping to make the industrialization of composites a reality.”

“The good thing about this collaboration is that we work closely together with Sabic, so the material development, automation technology development and the product development go hand in hand”, said Arno van Mourik, Chief Executive Officer of Airborne. “With such a holistic approach we can create real breakthroughs in cost efficiency for mass volume applications.”

Industrialization of laminate production using the new Digital Composite Manufacturing line will enable customers in diverse industries to mass-produce high performance thermoplastic composite parts, gaining advantages of faster speed, higher efficiency and lower costs.

The Digital Composites Manufacturing line uses cutting-edge digital technologies, including robotics, to enable mass customization of flat laminates while reducing cycle times and cost. The highly sophisticated, fully digital system can run multiple laminate sizes simultaneously. Adaptive process controls allow settings to be modified almost immediately. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will be used to achieve continuous yield improvements over time, maximize quality and repurpose irregular parts to minimize scrap

To support and enhance these capabilities, Sabic will offer customers a range of services including simulation-based part and laminate design assistance and guidance on hybrid molding processes in order to streamline the switch to composites. The company can customize its composite tapes and laminate products to meet customer requirements. Importantly, Sabic can leverage its wealth of experience in injection molding to help customers mitigate warpage, a common issue, by making modifications to part design, materials selection, and processing.

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