A procession of composites progress

The latest products, processes and services can all be found at the Composites Zone of Advanced Engineering held at the NEC on November 1-2. Composites in Manufacturing previews some of this year’s exhibitors.

We begin our round-up with CompoTech (stand U140) who will be promoting its latest advanced composite component design and bespoke automated production technologies. The focus this year is on the recent business expansion into automated winding machine design and production, using expertise gained from nearly 30 years developing in-house manufacturing machines for the company’s innovative carbon fibre winding technologies.

CompoTech provides complete solutions from carbon fibre composite component design, prototyping and part production to process installation of custom-built ‘turnkey’ automated fibre winding and filament placement machines. 

The company has invested in additional resources and formed links with specialist robotics and software supply partners to enable it to custom design and produce automated winding machines for manufacturers looking to invest in automated, high performance carbon composite component production capabilities.  

The company has an established track record for developing and manufacturing innovative, high performance carbon structures using its production technologies and is a specialist supplier of high precision composite beams, rotary shafts, spindles and tools for production machinery, and automation, replacing traditional steel and aluminium structures and components.

Manufacturers can now install automated winding technology able to produce carbon composite components with the same enhanced mechanical properties, weight and cost-saving benefits that CompoTech component customers enjoy. 

Moving on, PRF Composite Materials (stand W150) will showcase its class-leading, innovative prepreg materials this year. This includes its RP570 FR eXpress cure epoxy prepreg system. Formulated for structural components requiring FST properties, RP570 FR is a fire-retardant ultra-fast prepreg system which is cured and demouldable after five minutes at 160°C. This express resin system is principally designed for snap cure press moulding, however when curing in an autoclave it can reduce processing time – typically up to 50% less – thereby lowering energy consumption per part. RP570 FR is tested to Federal Aviation Requirements 25.853, AITM 2.0007 and 3.0005, UL94 V1 and FMVS Standard No.302 and it has been shortlisted for a 2023 Composites UK industry award, in the category of innovation.

PRF’s new REEPREG is a new prepreg material made with recycled chopped carbon mat. Its processing makes REEPREG drapeable and easily handled by the constructor, without falling apart when used. The mat is made using recycled carbon prepreg waste, reducing landfill from kitting and trimming. In combination with PRF’s RP570 eXpress cure, it offers a solution that significantly saves time, and reduces energy consumption and cost.

Composites technology specialist and machine builder, Cygnet Texkimp (stand U160) will highlight how its bespoke automation and handling solutions are being used to improve quality and productivity in the composites manufacturing industry at Advanced Engineering. The company’s forum session on Wednesday 1st at 11:20, will explore how its technologies are helping manufacturers increase production quality, speed and efficiency, reduce repetitive manual tasks, improve operator wellbeing and safety and enable product traceability in markets such as composites and geo textiles.

The company’s solutions are designed to work alongside its prepreg, coating, slitting, filament winding, creel, and materials recycling technologies and include automatic loading and unloading equipment, systems to wrap, pack and palletise bobbins of fibre, radiofrequency identification (RFID), barcoding and vision systems and auto guided vehicle (AGV) systems. Each of the company’s automation solutions is designed to enhance the integrity of the fibre or material and the efficiency with which it is processed.

In the next aisle, abrasive technology specialist Mirka UK (stand T170) will demonstrate its versatile AIROS sanding head. The AIROS 150NV is the company’s smallest AIROS sanding head and is ideal for more confined spaces, detailed work, and sanding of small areas. The tool has been designed to fit most robot arms on the market as well as being able to connect with Universal Robots collaborative robotic solutions using a special installation kit. 

Complementing the tools on display will be Mirka’s Galaxy abrasive range. This abrasive has been designed to be used on both soft and hard materials and to provide a cut that is so clean that scratch patterns in finer grits are especially easy to polish out and there are no loose grains left behind in the substrate.

This multi-purpose, film-backed abrasive has an innovative Multifit hole configuration that channels the dust away from the sanding process which, combined with Galaxy’s special coating, helps eradicate clogging, without sacrificing efficient sanding performance. The show will also see the debut of the Pro Iridium 1250 compound, the latest addition to Mirka’s polishing line-up, which has been developed for removing scratches from spot sanding.

For more than 70 years, Instron (stand M130) has supplied over 75,000 testing systems to leading manufacturers, scientists, engineers and quality managers worldwide. It is a pioneer in the field of composite materials and has been developing systems and participating in ASTM and ISO standards committees to develop new testing methods since the beginning of the industry.

Its range of testing software includes Bluehill Universal which features a specialised composites module and has built in test methods for many ASTM and ISO standards. Its dynamic testing software, WaveMatrix, can be supplemented with a patented Specimen Self-Heating Control module that is specifically aimed at composite material testing. 

The Specimen Self-Heating Control module is designed to allow tests to run at the highest frequency possible while keeping the specimen temperature constant and as a result, a high cycle fatigue test can be reduced by up to 12 days. Instron will be exhibiting its comprehensive range of testing solutions, including static and dynamic test machines.

At Optimax Imaging and Inspection, (stand H138) the company is inviting visitors to see how it takes solution-based metrology to the next level. Unlike traditional providers who simply offer a range of products, Optimax embraces a holistic perspective when tackling measurement challenges. It provides complete solutions tailored to specific measurement tasks, leveraging their extensive array of cutting-edge equipment.

The exhibition will feature an impressive selection of products from Optimax's portfolio, including Starrett Profile Projectors, Bruker Alicona 3D Metrology Systems, Vision Engineering Optical Inspection Systems, Hawkeye Video Borescopes, and specialised products designed for materials testing applications.

One of the standout highlights of the exhibit will be the Evixscan Optical 3D scanners, a game-changer in the industry. These advanced scanners, unlike handheld devices, boast an unparalleled measurement resolution of up to 6µm while rapidly capturing millions of data points within seconds.

Also at the NEC, Indestructible Paint (stand L162) has developed a new solution for creating a better surface finish on composite components that have been moulded using either prepregs or injection methods. These processes cannot always produce components with quality surfaces, often requiring labour-intensive hand filling and sanding to prepare the surface adequately for finishing or decoration. Working with manufacturers and finishers of composite mouldings, the company has developed a system of ‘in-mould’ priming. This virtually eliminates the use of post-mould hand filling. It also minimises the need for light surface sanding to prepare surfaces for further decoration.

The ‘in-mould’ primer is compatible with the typical resin systems used in prepreg composites, particularly epoxy and phenolic. The resin system selected has a particular advantage of having a higher glass transition temperature value than these typical resins.

The system was tested by a specialist automotive manufacturer resulting in handwork to the body being reduced by more than 24 hours. A further benefit was the elimination of fibre telegraphing of the composite on dark body colours. The technology has now been introduced into the aerospace sector where a key requirement is a smooth, high-gloss decorative finish.

Visitors to (stand V130) will be presented with Biesse’s solutions designed for the processing of plastic, composite and advanced materials. The company’s technology includes 3- and 5-axis CNC machine tools, waterjet cutting systems, panel saws, sanders and thermoformers.

Technology highlights include the Materia range of 5-axis gantry machining centres that offer high-speed processing of composites, thermoformed and engineered plastics. The 5-axis HSD Electrospindle offers the ability to machine complex shapes and can be configured with continuous rotation that improves quality and production times. In addition, control systems from OSAI, Siemens and Heidenhain are available.

Biesse’s 3- and 5-axis flat table CNCs process a wide range of sheet materials, moulds, patterns and 3D shapes and mitigate dust with the patented T-JET system that cleans the cut line as dust is produced. This helps to increase finishing quality, prolongs machine and tool life and creates a better working environment. Specialist nesting software is also included to reduce processing time and waste.

In the same aisle COMPCUT, (stand V150) the specialist division designing and developing state-of-the-art composite cutting solutions, will be presenting two flagship machine demonstrations – its Advanced Composite Saw (ACS) and Precision Composite Router (PCR). Advanced Engineering will feature two compact variants - the ACS 300 and PCR 300, featuring a 300 x 300mm panel space for precise, fast, and efficient cutting of composite test specimens.

The PCR 300 is the ultimate solution for cutting complex geometries from a range of composite material, including carbon fibre reinforced plastic, thermoplastics, and aramid fibre composites. Featuring a ‘hybrid’ machining solution, attendees can witness a combination of routing, milling, and grinding functions from a range of cutting tools and processes that culminate in a complete solution package.

COMPCUT’s ACS 300 will feature alongside its counterpart, demonstrating highly consistent and accurate parallelism and perpendicularity (down to 0.03mm) when cutting test specimens. The finish of cut samples from the ACS 300 is unmatched and requires no post-processing.

Lastly, Maka (stand W104) will be launching the BC-150sc series compact high-speed 5-axis CNC machining centre. The latest machine designed for precision machining of composites: trimming, slitting, drilling, and thinning. 

The BC-150sc delivers cutting-edge performance, micron precision at very high speed, for the most demanding components. The machine has already proven itself in producing automotive airbag mouldings, in a process referred to as ‘Weakening by Milling’. This high-quality safety-critical part is one of the most challenging and demanding products to manufacture.

Additionally, the front-end user interface on the Maka-Siemens control is highly enhanced to minimise down-time and setting, reduce errors, and improve visibility of the operation to make everything easier and quicker.

The BC-150sc provides instant access to technical support, and integration and visibility of the complex clamps and sensors on the customers fixtures. As a result, the operator is given a comprehensive overview of all aspects of the machine, including the safety system, and even the fixture. This shortens the learning curve setting-up is quicker, fault-finding is faster, and reliability is greatly improved. The overall result significantly improves up-time.




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