Automated fiber placement (AFP) technology has undergone significant development since its introduction in the late 1980s. This article will provide an overview of the evolution of AFP systems from 1990 to 2023, with a focus on the development of thermoset and thermoplastic applications. The benefits and limitations of AFP systems will also be discussed, as well as potential applications. Article concludes with a summary of the key points discussed.
Jump to the right section
Development of Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) systems from 1990 to 2000
AFP systems were introduced in the late 1980s, combining the features of ATL and filament winding
Limitations of the previous approach were overcome through separate bobbins and individually driven tapes
AFP machine demonstrated with an offline programming system in 1991
AFP System demonstrated controls of layup speed, pressure, temperature, and tape tension
Layup speed of 7 m/min resulted in productivity of 5 kg/h, comparable to Automated Tape Laying (ATL) in 1992
Layup reliability was improved in 1992 by using cooled creel houses
Mechanical properties of laminates made with AFP and hand layup were found to be comparable in 1992
A number of technical issues prevailed during the development of AFP, including tension in the tows, reliability, productivity, and layup accuracy
1992 saw an increase in the number of tows and the integration of the system with the CAD system which increased productivity.
The 1992 steering program improved productivity by focusing on the reliability and delivery of tows along curvilinear paths (steering). Steering allows for additional design freedom and potential improvement in mechanical performance with smaller tape widths.
The AFP reduced material wastage rates from 62% to 6% and increased productivity by 450% for a single 12.7 mm wide tape.
AFP reduces cost by 43% compared to manual layup.
AFP systems were extremely expensive, up to $6 million, with a limited range of affordability, reliability, and productivity
AFP developments that focus on thermoplastic
Early approaches to developing thermoplastic layup with AFP identified trade-offs between layup pressure, temperature, and speed.
Layup quality is affected by layup speed, which is limited by the time needed to heat material above the melting point.
Layup speeds of 3.6 m/min to 5 m/min were reported, resulting in lower productivity compared to thermoset materials
Optimal processing conditions for reduced void growth and improved interfacial bonding were explored
Heating methods include hot gas torches and lasers
Curing of thermoset prepregs with electron beam or UV light for faster processing and reduced thermal stresses achieved with limited layup speeds and reduced mechanical properties.
Development of Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) systems from 2000 -2012
From 2000, the focus shifted to addressing issues of affordability, process reliability, and productivity
AFP was mainly used in military and space programs until 2000
Process reliability improved through the use of automated splicing and layup error detection systems
Infrared heating of thermoset tape used to increase tack levels and reduce layup errors
Material delivery improved through the reduction of feed length and minimizing redirects and twists in the tow
The Current State of Automated Fiber Placement: A Review of the Latest Developments in AFP Technology
Industrial robots and advances in sensors, networks, and software have allowed for more powerful and smart AFP systems.
These systems can now be created using any industrial robotic arm or CNC, rather than being limited to complete CNC unit integration.
The cost of accessing new AFP systems has decreased about 100x, with one of the best AFP systems starting at around $3000-$4000 per month for a lease ready for industrial use.