When selecting an Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) system, it's crucial to consider several factors to ensure it aligns with your specific requirements. Here's a structured guide to help you make an informed decision:
1. Configuration Considerations:
Materials: Determine the types of materials you intend to work with. Options could include carbon fiber, glass fiber, or other preimpregnated flat strips of thermoset, thermoplastic, or with no matrix at all i.e. Dry fibers.
Shape Complexity: Decide on the intricacy of the shape you're aiming for, such as Flat, Open, Close, Selective, or Fiber steered.
Production Volume: Estimate the expected production volume. This can be left blank if uncertain.
Existing Infrastructure: Consider whether you already have a production floor or lab space equipped with CNC or Robot.
2. Basics of Quality and Reliability:
Placement Quality is typically gauged by the minimal gap between consecutive tapes. Ideally, this should be less than 6.35mm over a 300mm width of placed tapes.
Bonding quality of the placed tapes can be evaluated for thermoset placement that does not require debulking, and thermoplastic placement that requires very little post-cure to achieve the fast production
Automated Quality control: The system should support built-in quality control thus providing insight into the placed tapes i.e. gaps/overlaps, temperature, pressure, tension, etc. very critical in getting the structure accepted for critical applications.
Support: The automated systems are complex pieces of machinery and require consistent support i.e. firmware, planning software, operations, and spare parts support for at least 10 years. from the OEM supplier. At Addcomposites, we have built-in remote support with constant updates of the support any future needs, End User Success means a lot to Addcomposites and is proven now with becoming the highest AFP systems in the world in the last 5 years.
3. Material Handling:
Thermoset: These materials become tacky after refrigeration. For optimal placement, they should be heated slightly above 40°C but below 60°C.
Thermoplastic: These are non-tacky at room temperature and require heating to their melting point for effective bonding. External heating units like lasers or hot gas torches might be necessary.
Dry Fiber: The heat source's speed varies for dry fiber placement. The quality of the dry tape is crucial, as placing non-stiff dry fiber tapes can be challenging.
AFP-XS by Addcomposites: This system is versatile, capable of handling all the above materials. It features built-in cooling and IR heating for thermoset prepreg and can integrate external heaters for thermoplastic placement.
4. Process Types:
Fiber Placement: Uses one or more narrow tapes (3.175/6.35mm width) to cover complex shapes without wrinkles.
Tape Laying: Employs a single wide tape (25mm to 150mm) mainly for flat preform creation.
Filament Winding: The process of winding tow pregs on a closed shape along the geodesic path. One of the most widely used process
AFP-XS by Addcomposites provide a combination of all AFP, ATL and Filament winding into one. This is possible due to thestandard systems capability to support any width between 5 - 25 mm ( 50 mm possible on requests) thus allowing faster and finer opertions as needed for the shape. In addition the system has capability to work as thermoplastic and thermoset winder, in this mode the AFP does not in contact with mold/mandrel and able wind to very sharp concave shapes similar to winding
5. Temperature Control:
The application of heat is pivotal in ensuring the proper adhesion of incoming tows to the substrate. This heat is supplied by a device known as a "heater" that's mounted to the AFP head. Various heating systems are available, each with its unique characteristics and applications:
Infrared (IR) Heaters:
Description: IR heaters are prevalent in AFP manufacturing for thermoset materials. They transfer heat through radiation. A significant disadvantage is their inefficient and non-uniform heat transfer. Additionally, the heat they produce isn't sufficient for thermoplastic materials.
Description: Laser heaters are ideal for thermoplastic layups. They have become more commercially viable due to reduced costs and increased robustness. They offer advantages like high energy density, focused heating, faster processing rates, and a superior surface finish. However, they require stringent safety measures, including laser shielding and personal protection equipment.
Pulsed Light Heaters:
Description: Pulsed light heaters, like the Humm3® developed by Heraeus, are a newer addition to the heating options. They utilize a Xenon flashlamp with programmable pulse parameters to deliver rapid heating, comparable to laser systems.
Hot Gas Torches (HGT):
Description: HGTs have been in use for over two decades, initially in ATL machines and early AFP machines. They utilize hot gas, typically nitrogen, with temperature control achieved via gas flow rate. While cost-effective, HGTs can be challenging to control temperature-wise. They are suitable for thermoplastic layups, but their efficiency decreases at speeds above 150 mm/sec. HGTs offer advantages like lower safety concerns and more distributed heating.
Heat is essential for achieving the right tackiness. AFP-XS by Addcomposites comes standard with IR heaters and is compatible with all of the above-mentioned external heaters. As mentioned each heating system does have their pro and cons thus its best to define the application very well before deciding on the right heating technology.
6. Motion Platforms: Understanding Gantry and Robotic Systems
When it comes to Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) machines, the choice of motion platform is crucial. The type of machine selected largely depends on the size and shape of the part being manufactured. Here's a breakdown of the primary types of AFP machines and their applications:
Best For: Parts with significant height or those that require rotation. The structure of the horizontal gantry doesn't obstruct the tool, making it ideal for these applications.
Features: This machine offers 6° of freedom (DOF) - 3 cartesian and 3 rotational. Additionally, there's an external rotational axis for the mandrel/tool.
Best For: Large plate-like structures that don't demand complex motion. The vertical gantry is especially suitable as it performs layups from the top of the tool, typically without a rotating mandrel.
Features: Functions similarly to the horizontal gantry but without the need for a rotating mandrel.
Best For: Complex shapes requiring extensive maneuverability. The robotic arm's wide range of motion allows it to navigate around parts with higher curvatures.
Features: The robotic arm machine boasts 6 rotational DOF along with a linear axis. When combined with a rotator, it can achieve up to 8 DOF, making it the most versatile option. This machine can work on tools arranged both vertically and horizontally and can handle rotating tools.
Traditionally, AFP systems were either gantry or robotic style platforms, and they were shipped as a single unit with the AFP preattached to the CNC or robot. This made them expensive and challenging to install. However, the AFP-XS by Addcomposites revolutionizes this approach. It's designed as a plug-and-play unit, compatible with various industrial robots like Kuka, ABB, Fanuc, and Kawasaki. This not only reduces costs but also ensures there's no compromise in quality, thanks to Addcomposites' proprietary technology.
7. Software Integration and Process Planning in AFP Operations:
The success of Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) operations hinges significantly on the software used. It acts as the bridge connecting design, manufacturing, and quality control. Here's a detailed look into the process planning phase and the importance of integrated software:
Process Planning Overview:
Before the actual AFP layup, a process planning phase is essential. This phase involves:
Layup Strategies: Determines starting points, reference curves, and coverage across the surface. The choice of strategy can either enhance or diminish layup quality.
Reference Curves: These are essential for covering the tool surface with toolpaths. Strategies include fixed angle, geodesic, and variable angle. Each has its unique method of defining points and curves for layup trajectories.
Coverage Strategies: These strategies create course centerlines across the tool surface. The main strategies are independent curves, offset curves, and shifted curves. Each has its advantages and challenges, especially concerning gaps, overlaps, and fiber directions.
Path Optimization: Several methods have been developed to optimize fiber paths on the tool surface. These methods consider factors like machine kinematics, thickness variation, and user requirements.
The Importance of Integrated Software:
Choosing software not provided by the AFP system's OEM can lead to integration issues, making the entire system inefficient. AFP-XS by Addcomposites addresses this concern by including its proprietary software, AddPath.
AddPath By Addcomposites:
Design for AFP: Seamlessly import and export your FEA design to ensure production aligns with process limitations.
Simulated AFP Tape Courses: Enables the simulation of programmed AFP tape courses.
Waste Reduction: Uses virtualization to minimize waste.
Custom Path Generation: Allows for the creation of custom paths tailored for fiber placement.
Quality Data Logging & Reporting: Aids in maintaining quality assurance throughout the process.
Cloud-Based Licensing: Offers flexibility and easy accessibility.
2D & 3D Open Shape Planning: Facilitates planning of single tow paths in both 2D and 3D dimensions.
Gap/Overlap/Steering Analysis: Provides a detailed analysis of gaps and overlaps in fiber placement.
Open Source: Built with a Python pre-planning processor, AddPath grants users the freedom to create paths and programs based on their logic using AddPath's proprietary libraries.
By integrating the right software and understanding the intricacies of process planning, manufacturers can ensure optimal outcomes in AFP operations.
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