With the Airborne Preforming technology customers will have the full freedom to create any shape of preform and benefit from the high output the system offers.
The solution is based on three steps: cutting of the material on a conveyor cutter or tape feeder, picking of the material by the robot and then placing and spot-welding the plies to create a stabilised preform, ready to be moulded. It can work with the existing, wide material rolls to optimize the cost and does not need new design or qualification effort, since it uses existing processes for cutting and welding. Depending on the need, different variants can be supplied, optimized for productivity, accuracy or flexibility.
One of the great advantages of Airborne Preforming technology is that it can create any preform: in size, in shape (making free-form edges and 100% net-shape), and in thickness variation, and it can also make cut-outs in the middle of the ply.
Typically, the process of creating a preform is quite costly. Many composite forming processes, such as press consolidation, press forming, vacuum forming, or diaphragm forming, are based on the use of tailored 2D preforms or blanks. Although the forming processes are usually efficiently automated, the blanks or preforms going into these processes are often produced manually - a repetitive process, requiring both skill and concentration from the operators.
With higher production rates it becomes increasingly difficult for operators to keep up with production while maintaining quality. And if automation of the process is considered, in many cases the engineering and programming time is prohibitive, especially in factories with a wide mix of products.
Automated programming on the preforming system allows for short start-up times with no engineering effort: no programming is needed. The design file can be loaded directly into the machine and the preform can be made without intervention. The Airborne Preforming system can handle both dry fibre and thermoplastic composite materials in many different forms (UD, fabric, core materials, surface films, adhesive films, etc.). Functionalities can be added easily (quality control, preform offloading, additional material feeds, higher volume material feeds, etc.).
Marcus Kremers, CTO of Airborne commented: “The basic principle of the system is very simple: ‘Pick & Weld’. This is a pick and place action by the robot during which we spot-weld the plies. We very much like this conceptual simplicity since it makes the process very robust, flexible and versatile. Of course, the devil is in the detail to make it work consistently with the right quality. In many cases, customers handle lots of different materials and product designs. Their ideal situation is to have a single automation technology and that’s what we can provide them.”