The project has resulted in the development of automated, cost-effective processing technologies that can manufacture large-scale thermoplastic parts at high-speed deposition rates of up to 4000 inches (100 meters) per minute.
High-speed Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) equipment from Electroimpact has been enhanced for processing thermoplastic materials with a Variable-Spot-Size Laser heating system. This system uses a large range of processing temperatures for robust process control across individual tows to accommodate severe contours while enabling thermoplastic composite parts to be repairable during AFP lay-up, thereby reducing risk of wastage during part manufacture.
Processing speeds of up to 4000 IPM (100 m/min) have been achieved with light or heavy tack levels to guarantee part geometry. “When these advancements are combined with increased AFP reliability, in-process real-time inspection and maintenance intervals, the resulting AFP 4.0 processing increases 4x-6x current productivity”, Michael Assadi, Chief Engineer at Electroimpact”.
To maximise production efficiencies, the AFP layup is formed directly on to an out of autoclave heated lay-up tooling system, engineered by Janicki Industries, which is then fully consolidated in-situ, achieving a complete thermal process cycle in less than one hour. The tooling system is designed for scalability to accommodate parts that are too large for traditional heated press applications and achieves significantly faster cycle times than high temperature autoclaves.
“The key to this technology is rapid heating and cooling rates with edge-to-edge uniformity throughout the process” states Todd Chace, Director of Research and Development at Janicki, “Complete consolidation under vacuum bag only pressure is achieved by controlling the key stages of melt, flow, and crystallization with precise temperature control”.