Supporting UK Composites

Composites Innovation Cluster - Project Updates

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The partners of the Composites Innovation Cluster (CiC) of projects have been working hard over the last few months to move their individual projects forward. The CiC is funded by the UK Government’s Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI), and has just celebrated its one-year mark. The project is due for completion in 2016.

Below are some updates from project partners noting their progress.


UK-THERMOCOMP - Stimulating the UK Supply Chain for High-Performance Thermoplastic Composites

The UK-THERMOCOMP project aims to develop a UK based supply chain to address the demand for carbon fibre reinforced thermoplastic (CRFTP) composites.

The UK-THERMOCOMP project focuses on short manufacturing cycle time of CFRTP composites using innovative materials, form factors and processing technologies. This is achieved by strong synergy between partners’ expertise and process capabilities, which enables a comprehensive materials development phase.

To date the UK-THERMOCOMP project is engaging in continuous optimisation of a range of hybrid fabric architectures. The processing and characterisation of the different CFRTP materials is on-going and has provided valuable feedback, enabling the partners to adjust their material design in order to optimise properties. The development of numerical models to carry out virtual simulation of the thermoforming process also continues and has to date yielded encouraging results through correlation with thermoformed bi-axial CFRTP composites.

The next stage of activity will consist of further optimisation of the material construction and processing parameters. Meanwhile demonstrator parts suitable for aerospace and automotive applications will be down-selected and pre-specified with steer from project partners acting as Primes.

For more information about the UK-THERMOCOMP project please contact Mandy Clement.


DATACOMP - Composite Material Characterisation for Simulation Driven Engineering

The UK-DATACOMP project aims to create a database of correlated finite element material models of a range of composites for automotive crashworthiness applications.

The first 2 levels of testing for phase 1 are nearing completion with the test data having been added to the database, allowing for data processing and interrogation of these results. Automotive applicable component parts are planned to be ready for testing early in 2015 to conclude phase 1, and provide a full set of data to support the simulation and database activities. The Axontex carbon fibre braided material is now close to being fully characterised, and other materials including non-crimp fabric (NCF), spread tow carbon and low cost carbon fibre fabric panels should follow early in the next quarter. A shortlist of materials has been drawn up for phase 2 of Datacomp due to commence in April 2015, and this includes hybrid materials such as Carbon/Innegra and Carbon/Glass that are well positioned for the automotive market due to their relatively low cost, a key target for this project. Also likely to be included in phase 2 is the thermoplastic material technology developed in the Thermocomp project (also CiC) proving that collaboration is not just taking place within each project, but also across the various projects in the cluster. A new Granta Gateway product has just been launched to link Granta’s MI database software with Altair’s Hypermesh product. This will enable more automated translation of test results into usable simulation material model data, which is a major aspect of the Datacomp project. This product will continue to be developed in the coming months continuing the close collaboration between Granta and Altair.

For more information on this project please contact Peter Benzie.


UK-ECOPROCESS - Developing a Flexible Manufacturing Process to Produce Hybrid, Structural Thermoplastic Automotive Components Cost Effectively

In order to continue to innovate and grow in its core market sectors EPL has become a partner of the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative programme.

As part of this initiative, EPL is collaborating with Cytec Industrial Materials to develop a unique robotic process for manufacturing low cost, structural thermoplastic composite components. The venture aims to deliver a step change in process speed, waste levels and material performance necessary to make thermoplastic components cost viable to a wider audience of industrial end users.

Recent activity has focused on benchmarking existing chopping technology with regard to evaluating performance and costs. As a result of this work the development of a new Hi-bred chopping system is currently underway with first prototypes being made and delivered in early December 2014. As this Hi-bred method is innovative in relation to previous methods, patents are currently being filed. EPL will work with Cytec in the coming months to benchmark this technology and assess performance and costs.

An important aspect of this project has been the creation of jobs through innovation and our initial target was to create 4 full time posts and to safeguard a further 6 positions during the project life. We are pleased to announce that we have achieved our employment target with the project at just over the halfway stage.

EPL would welcome enquiries from Companies who would like to develop thermoplastic components as case studies in the project. Please contact Nick Weatherby.


ATTOM - Affordable Tidal Turbines via Optimised Manufacture

The ATTOM project seeks to investigate the potential for automation or improved materials handling methods as a route to cost reduction, as well as factors that may affect production line layout and the possible solutions to specific quality control problems. ATTOM will contribute to developing a UK-based supply chain that can produce tidal turbine blades with an improved design and a 20% cost reduction through the use of automated handling and storage techniques.

Cytec alongside project partners and equipment suppliers, Assyst Bullmer and Gudel have now completed the cell layout design.

Successful preliminary trials have been carried out at Gudel’s Coventry site, using a bespoke end-effector designed and developed for the programme, mounted on an overhead robotic gantry supplied by Gudel.

A storage concept, which will be able to accommodate plies of up to 8 m X 1.25 m is in the final design stages.


COMP-FORE - Cross Sector Modelling Tool for Strengthening Supply Chains by Technology Insertion

The project will create a sustainable model of the composites supply chain that will allow companies to make realistic engineering decisions on technology insertion to strengthen the UK supply chain, based on real-world economic data as well as the technical merits of that technology. Use of this decision-support tool will allow companies to make informed judgments about specific competing technologies, training and implementation programmes and create jobs that are anchored in the UK. A key objective is to ensure that technologies are introduced into the UK supply chain when the supply chain is equipped to assimilate them domestically without introducing a demand elsewhere in the chain that can only be met by outsourcing operations overseas.

Along with Composites UK the Comp-Fore team carried the first phase of the “manufacturing technology selection” questionnaire designed to obtain data to model the composite materials supply chain. The analysis of the responses received show companies are interested in reducing cycle times and improving quality but not so much interested in reducing inventory levels. Respondent companies acknowledged the importance of selecting the right manufacturing technology with respect to their supply chain. Furthermore, the Comp-Fore team has developed a preliminary framework for modelling a single product – single customer supply chain/aggregate production planning configuration. The model uses the IBM ILOG Cplex platform and it takes parameters such as (demand, sale price, production time, etc.) variables including (types of workers, workers hired/fired, raw materials shipped, etc.), objective functions (e.g. profit) and constraints (e.g. capacity).


BIOCOMP – Stimulating the UK Supply Chain for Biocomposites

UK-BIOCOMP aims to develop the materials and process technologies necessary to manufacture novel biocomposite materials that truly compete with glass fibre composites.

One important aspect of the project is to deliver surface treatment technologies that improve fibre-matrix adhesion, and therefore mechanical properties of the finished composite materials. Plasma treatments have been identified as a promising candidate due to their inherently green credentials and ability to deliver specific surface functionalisation.

Henniker have investigated various plasma surface treatment technologies on a wide range of materials and at different stages of processing. Plasma treated materials have been subjected to a number of surface analysis techniques and the treatments refined accordingly. Testing of fabricated composite parts has been carried out by NetComposites and comparison made with parts manufactured from the equivalent untreated materials and also with glass-pp composites.

The results have demonstrated a significant improvement in both tensile and flexural strength & modulus when compared to untreated parts. The tensile and flexural modulus results are particularly impressive, being on a par with commercial glass-pp product within the error of experiment.

For further details please feel free to contact Terry Whitmore of Henniker or Matthew Thornton of NetComposites.


MACoB - Developing Manufacturing Techniques & Design for Manufacturing Guidelines for Complex Composite Structures

The Manufacture of Advanced Composite Blades (MACoB) project will develop the next generation of propeller blade design and its respective manufacturing guidelines, processes and applicable materials. The project will aim to develop two types of blade, allowing for the development of both current and new technologies. These will then be tested and assessed back-to-back to provide comparative data between the two types of technologies.

The next generation of propeller blade is expected to have complex geometries to increase its performance characteristics and decrease its acoustic emissions. Due to this, the manufacture of such geometries is expected to challenge the current methods employed at Dowty Propellers. To solve such a problem, technologies such as Automated Fibre Placement (AFP) which deposit individual tows of carbon rather than fabric, are being investigated and tested as it is believed that the capabilities such technology could provide will allow for the manufacture of these highly complex geometries.

Another aim of the project is to develop innovative root designs for the next generation propeller blades. By altering the design of the root section, it can be assured that the stresses will not lead to failure in the root sections. These delivered schematics for each blade with its respective root will then be down-selected to one design for manufacture, whilst the others will be used within the company for various other projects as they develop.

With the combination of an innovative root design and new materials and manufacturing technologies, the blades produced using new technologies will be radically different to their counterpart manufactured with current techniques. This will allow Dowty to understand the benefits, disadvantages, cost and function of both new and current technologies when manufacturing next generation propeller blades.


LIRIC – Liquid Resin Infusion of High Temperature Composites

The aim of this two-year collaborative development project between lead partner Cobham Composites and Sigmatex is to develop and validate liquid resin infusion for high temperature structural aerospace components.

Since the last update, the preferred self-heated tooling solution has been selected and the infusion process has been optimised for candidate resin systems. The focus of the project is now to infuse and mechanically test t-section sub-element components to inform the tufting and infusion process for the demonstrator component. Importantly, there shall also be a flow optimisation activity in this project to ensure that the process developed is suitable for a production environment.

Cobham welcomes any enquiries related to this technology development. Project lead for enquiries is Francis Arthur.



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