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Revolutionizing the Future of Composite Manufacturing: Automation Techniques and Innovation

Updated: Jan 9

Introduction

Several industries, such as automotive and aerospace, today rely heavily on high-throughput automated composite manufacturing. The article reviews the present state of the art in automated composite manufacturing methods. focusing on methods and materials manufacturing possibilities.




Why automated composite manufacturing

Composites are used for many applications in the aerospace and automotive industry due to their high specific strength. Traditional manufacturing methods for composites are labor intensive and it is increasingly becoming difficult to find experienced workers for the manual layup. Even a highly trained technician lays about 1 to 1.5 kg of composite material per hour; making this approach highly localized and unscalable. For this particular reason, most of the hand layup work has moved to low-cost countries.


In order to bring the benefit of high composites structures to the masses an automated manufacturing approach is needed that relies on

  • Accessible material with high recyclability

  • Accessible automated manufacturing methods

  • Automated quality control and assurance

  • Scalable across the domains, not restricted to aerospace alone

Composites manufacturing processes vs volume

Though there are many methods to create composites, not all are suited for high-volume output automation. Injection molding is good for a large number of parts, but customization of the parts is costly due to the need for dedicated molds. The optimum production capacity for composite manufacturing methods is given the increasing level of automation. As can be noticed there is huge potential in the 10,000-50,000 parts processes to provide customized high-volume products.


composite part manufacturing processes by optimum output
Composite part manufacturing processes by optimum output (source: https://par.nsf.gov/servlets/purl/10111550)

Additive Composites Manufacturing

The potential identified above can be exploited with additive manufacturing techniques of the past combined with recent advancements. The manufacturing of composites lends itself to additive manufacturing because of the use of layer-by-layer addition of continuous fiber materials, which are easily shaped through a substrate and robotic motion. Currently, the industrial composite production process makes use of prepreg tapes or narrower, tows to create a part. These processes leverage the existing automation of robotic arms or low-cost gantry systems with programmable motion and sensor controls to meticulously place composite tapes and tows to fabricate a specific part structure. All of these processes make use of continuous fibers dry or impregnated with matrices. Matrices could be of plastic, ceramic, or metallic nature.


Filament Winding (FW)

Filament Winding is an automatic method to create axisymmetrically as well as some non-axisymmetric parts (i.e. pipe bends) by winding continuous fiber rovings or tapes around a rotating substrate (axisymmetric / non-axisymmetric).


Dry Filament Winding

Dry Filament Winding may use dry fibers passed through a series of creels, grouping the fibers by passing them through a textile board or comb, pulling the grouped fibers through the winding eye, and wrapping it around the closed-shaped mandrel. For an open tube winding, additional pins at the end of the mandrel can be used to provide the necessary anchoring point. This approach allows for the RTM style infusion process later, allowing for a faster production rate and near net shape outer surface.


Wet Filament Winding

Wet Filament Winding may use dry fibers passed through a series of creels, grouping the fibers by passing them through a textile board or comb, and pulling the grouped fibers through a resin bath before finally passing it through a winding eye/comb and wrapping it around the closed shaped mandrel. At the end of the winding cycle, a compaction tape is wounded with additional pressure to squeeze out access resin and provide a smooth finish.


Multi-Stage Filament Winding (Source:https://www.intcdc.uni-stuttgart.de/research/associated-projects/ap-6/)
Multi-Stage Filament Winding (Source:https://www.intcdc.uni-stuttgart.de/research/associated-projects/ap-6/)

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