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Building a future for composites: Perspectives Industry 4.0

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Much of the hype building up advanced composites manufacturing is centered around the ability to create scalable factories built for the future of global business. While some of these benefits may be true today, advanced composites manufacturing combined with industry 4.0 and additive manufacturing, can help enable the creation of products that are first-to-market, fully customized, and dynamic. These possibilities have the ability to change manufacturing in profound ways. Our understanding of the resulting technology trends motivates a framework that captures the activities for advanced composites manufacturing’s move into mass manufacturing.

Industry 4.0 working group in Germany, a leader in the research, development, and communication of smart manufacturing and innovation concepts have defined Industry 4.0 as a fourth industrial revolution that “will involve the technical integration of cyber-physical systems into manufacturing and logistics, and the use of Internet-of-Things and digital services in industrial processes. This will have implications for the value creation, business models, downstream services and work organization.” This definition captures the broad areas of change taking place within supply chain systems and manufacturing industries across the world. And while the exact meaning of Industry 4.0 is still evolving, there are key themes in all of the concepts that are important to understand. we’d like to share with you what we’ve learned thus far and what we at Addcomposites think industry 4.0 means for advanced composites manufacturing.

Digitization and Cyber-Physical Factory Systems

What does the term cyber-physical mean as it’s referenced here? It basically boils down to a concept that looks at the advancement of modern manufacturing facilities and production processes - like lean manufacturing, quality assurance, and CNC fabrication - and addresses the fact that most of the machines performing these processes still behave in reference to a bygone era of industrial production. Basically, robots are excellent at doing what they're told to do, and nothing else. This means that instructions can be programmed into a machine and it will follow them to the letter. If the human who is programming the machine makes an error, the machine will incorrectly perform the task it is meant to perform. This is where the ‘cyber’ in cyber-physical systems come in.

By inventing machines to automate processes that address human-centric error mitigation - such as fatigue, boredom, low-strength, missed accuracy, forgetfulness and illness - the business, and the factory floor staff, gains the ability to cope with the unexpected, catch mistakes and generally see the bigger picture. The falling cost and subsequent improvement in overall size and capability of sensors and programmable logic controllers have unlocked this capability along with a vast amount of data that can be captured and improved upon. Everything on the factory floor, from stocking and inventory levels, the temperature in the factory, or throughput per hour can now be tracked and analyzed.

We Have the Building Blocks Needed to Build Smart Factories

Industry 4.0 can be so much more than manufacturing. It represents a cultural shift in the way we do business, design, manufacture, and interact with each other as humans. Early industrial revolutions took humans and made them machines. Mass manufacturing and commerce forced us to do mindless repetitive jobs, a single assembly operation on a production line, or endless data entry.

Industry 4.0 concepts can give machines that little bit of intuition they lack, enabling machines to do mindless repetitive jobs but still have the programmed oversight to cope with the unexpected. Humans are now beginning to have the freedom to work the way humans work best, strategically and creatively. However, a cultural shift will be required to encourage us to become even more flexible so we can handle the transition of economies of the future. Additionally, the software tools we use to carry out our work will need to evolve to support using these new jobs which will require us to use our skills in different ways. Boiling down the key elements of advanced composites manufacturing brings you to mold making, laying and finishing.


Additive manufacturing is changing the way we make any forms ground up and mold has been one of them. Stratasys and Plyable are good examples who have already launched their commercial services in this area, and others have now a commercial product in the area.

With the help of AM, we have the capability to build the mold with a complete digital footprint. But that's still only less than half of the overall process.

Layup and processing

In composites processing, there have been tools - such as Material and Asset Tracker (MAT) 4.0 which allow real-time visibility of layup molds, dies, tool kits, fixtures, trim/drill tools, and calibration tools. They accomplish this by using a variety of RFID and bar-code technologies that monitor a tool’s location, condition, conformity status and availability, as well as the number of autoclave cycles per tool.

With the advent of the affordable and industry 4.0 capable AFP system, the laying process can be executed with complete digital process tracking. The added bonus of eliminating debulking not only reduces layup time, but it also leaves the curing process as the last major step to be performed manually. Countless visits to the JEC World show will provide enough evidence to know that there are numerous systems available to capture and control parameters during the curing process which produce digital data, enabling trackable processes.

Finishing touches

Oftentimes, the dirtiest steps of the entire process are the finishing steps: trimming and polishing. With complete robotic cells becoming the direction of the industry, many new products are becoming more widely known on the market. One good example for an industry 4.0 capable polishing tool is Mirka® AIROS. It can control and capture all the critical parameters, showing how far the industry has come to accomplish the goal of smart manufacturing for advanced composites. Now that we have touched upon the hypotheticals of automated manufacturing, our next article will dive into some more actual use cases, and how it helps manufacturers - especially the ones doing the actual work.

Let's build it!

Addcomposites brings affordable AFP systems for increasing your automated processing capabilities. Reach out if you are interested in joining us on the journey of building a future for affordable automated composites production.


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