JEC Europe 2015: Fraunhofer IPT Presents System for the Automated Production of Tailored Thermoplastic Composite Blanks

Press release / March 05, 2015

Thermoplastic composite blanks consist of fiber-reinforced materials, i.e. of fibrous tissues or fabrics that have been embedded in a thermoplastic matrix. These materials can be re-shaped under a controlled induction of heat during a thermoforming process. In the "E-Profit" research project, the Aachen-based Fraunhofer IPT and its partners have jointly developed an automated production line for the manufacturing of such tailored composite blanks from unidirectional fiber-reinforced tapes. These blanks are characterized by optimized stress properties and a reduced production of waste. Fraunhofer IPT is presenting the new technology at the leading European trade fair for composite technologies, the JEC Europe, from 10 to 12 March 2015 in Paris.

© Fraunhofer IPT
System for manufacturing of tailored composite blanks

Manufacturers from the automotive industry, aviation and mechanical engineering have already declared a specific interest in the use of load-optimized composite blanks, mainly because such blanks can be more conveniently processed than conventional lightweight materials: cycle times are shorter and fewer material, as well as fewer energy resources, are required, while the technical quality of the components is comparable or even superior. By contrast, the production of components from conventional, fiber-reinforced thermoset matrix systems – with its lengthy injection and autoclave processing steps – consumes too much energy, time and man hours to be commercially attractive for most applications.

One significant advantage of composite blanks with their thermoplastic matrices is the fact that they can be reshaped under heat – this ensures shorter cycle times. Until now, however, no automatic system for the production of tailored composite blanks from thermoplastic tapes was commercially available. Such a system has now been developed and industrially designed within the "E-Profit" project.

Flexible Engineering Technology for Large-Scale Manufacturing

Fraunhofer IPT and its partners have developed a safe and robust facility within the »E-Profit« project which uses infrared radiation as a heat source to weld together the individual sheet layers. This independent system requires no extra equipment or accessories such as robots or casings and can be used for a large number of applications, thanks to its variable, large-surface consolidation section. This allows the combination of both carbon tapes and glass-fiber tapes with a wide range of matrix materials.

The facility is already working with delivery speeds of up to 1 m/s and can produce tailored composite blanks with a maximum total width of 1 m. Consolidation is taking place during the production process – which means that, in contrast to many conventional techniques, no additional downstream consolidation process is required. The laminates can be customized for each application and for individually required stress profiles, since the fibers can be aligned in a variety of different patterns. With the facility from the "E-Profit" project, it is now possible – for the first time ever – to manufacture tailored composite blanks with optimized stress properties and a reduced production of waste in an automated production line, to reshape them, to functionalize and to trim them.

Development of Machines and Industrial Processes for the Manufacturing of Tailored Composite Blanks From Unidirectional Thermoplastic Tapes

Fraunhofer IPT can provide client companies with turnkey production lines – its services include customized design, construction, installation and commissioning. Based on the experiences it has made during the project, Fraunhofer IPT is ready to design, develop and optimize all industrial processes that are required for the manufacturing of composite blanks from thermoplastic tapes with optimized stress properties and a significantly reduced production of waste. This also includes the selective reinforcement of conventional semi-finished products into stress-optimized composite blanks, the production of test specimens as well as of application-related demonstrator components and the classification of different component and laminate qualities.

The research and development project "E-Profit" was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the Framework Concept "Research for Tomorrow’s Production" and managed by the Project Management Agency Karlsruhe (PTKA).