Composites step up: JEC 2012 review

This year's JEC show revealed a host of innovation stemming from the materials world. It is fair to say there was quite a positive buzz, with many not feeling the same economic pinch that has ravaged other sectors. In fact, the economy was hardly mentioned with many exhibitors boasting full order books and talking about the growing confidence in the engineering and manufacturing sector.

The composite industry has busied itself since the recession concentrating on innovation and lifting the barriers to the mass markets. They are not quite there yet, and the material is still considered by many as premier. But they are not too far off and continue to move forward. Below is a roundup of the best news and innovations from this year's show.

Dassault and National Composites Centre to collaborate
The National Composites Centre is to collaborate with Dassault Systèmes for mutual development of composite design and simulation capability.

Dassault will provide NCC with its latest collaborative modelling and simulation environment based on V6 solutions. By working with the NCC, Dassault hopes to improve its composite modelling and simulation capability by closely working with the NCC's advanced composite experts. In turn the centre and its partners will benefit from the premium design and simulation capability of Dassault's software.

Peter Chivers, chief executive of the National Composites Centre, says: "Our mission in developing composite product manufacturing knowledge excellence will be greatly helped by Dassault Systèmes who will in return benefit from NCC's industry knowledge."

Dassault Systèmes has a longstanding leadership in providing composites solutions for innovation, addressing key challenges in industries such as aerospace, automotive, marine and energy. This is well placed with the NCC which has an impressive catalogue of experts on its books including representatives from Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Vestas, AgustaWestland, GKN, Umeco and the University of Bristol.

Philippe Laufer, Vice President of research and development of CATIA, Dassault Systèmes, says: "The NCC is critical to global composite industry developments, and is an ideal partner for us. Building strong partnerships with leading composite academic institutions, research centres, and industry clusters worldwide is a key focus for Dassault Systèmes to remain at the leading edge of technological innovation."

Chemical release agents to be replaced by film
The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany has developed a thin film which can be used instead of a release agent in plastic and composite moulds.

FlexPLAS is an elastic polymer which features a flexible release layer that facilitates easy removal of components from moulds. The film can be applied using a special deep-drawing process without alteration of tool design and is suitable for both male and female moulds.

It has been used to manufacture large carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) components on a 1:1 scale via a prepreg process at 180°C in an autoclave which can be coated without further pre-treatment. This is because the use of the release film allows clean removal from the mould without the transfer of any residues. FlexPLAS can be used with prepreg and other manufacturing processes such as vacuum infusion or in wet lay-up.

The film allows for an in-mould coating to the component by applying a gel layer to the film. The matt effect of the coated surface can also be adjusted by the roughness of the FlexPLAS release film used.

Notably, there is no downtime required to clean the moulds and free them from release agent residues. Furthermore, if the film remains on the component to the end of the process or up to delivery then it also acts as a protective layer.

Composite sheet production on continuous press
Press and steel belt manufacturer Sandvik demonstrated its double belt press technology at this year's show, which enables pressure, heating and cooling to be incorporated in one continuous, short cycle process.

The inherent strength and outstanding thermal properties of steel make it the ideal material for high pressure processing, while the belts flat and hard surfaces ensure a smooth finish to end products. The double belt can accurately control and adjust each aspect of process, and has obvious benefits in terms of productivity.

Sandvik manufactures both isobaric and isochoric double belt presses. The isobaric applies a constant pressure and is ideal for the production of thin products and composites, including fibre-reinforced plastics, decorative laminates, floor boards and extruded board. The isochoric maintains a consistent press gap which is irrespective of pressure and is used for sheet casting, sheet moulding and laminating application.

UV curing composite
Gurit has developed composite technology that uses UV light from specially designed lamp equipment to fully cure in just a few minutes. This has been developed in to its Renuvo multi-purpose system (MPS) to allow for in-service repair of wind turbine blades.

MPS can be used on its own for repairs, but only where laminates do not need to be replaced or added. Typical application would be to treat surface pitting and erosion, as well as small holes. Using a dedicated UV source, ideally its Renuvo Lamp Technology, Renuvo MPS is cured in just 90s for a typical spot filler repair up to 3mm thick. Used in combination with Renuvo Prepreg the MPS product acts as a primer to give a good air-free bonded surface.

It has been demonstrated as a practical solution to performing repairs quickly at different temperatures. For this reason, two specific grades of material have been formulated to give the right material in both hot and cold environments.

Mobile app for resin selection
Huntsman Advanced Materials launched a mobile app for Android and iPhone for selecting composite resin systems.

The app invites users to select the process being used from wet lay-up to standard RTM through to prepregs, filament winding and moulding. It then asks users to fill in some parameters from Glass Transition Temperature (Tg) to fracture toughness, pot life, gel time and mix viscosity.

This then takes the user to the results of resins found. Clicking on the individual resin shows a detailed material specification and the option of receiving a data sheet about the resin system. The apps will also be available on BlackBerry in May.

Indian fibreglass company makes European acquisition
The Braj Binani Group announced it has completed its acquisition of 3B-The Fibre Glass Company. The deal was said to be worth €275million.

Braj Binani, chairmen of the Braj Binani Group, says: "3B is a great innovation and entrepreneurial company synonymous with reliability and quality. Its product range and geographic reach are highly complementary to ours and offer significant opportunities to deliver greater value to what will become our mutual customers."

The combined fibre glass production capacity is 170,000tons of which 150,000tons are in Europe and 20,000tons in Goa, India. The Binani Group said it is fully embracing 3B's existing strategy to focus on the key wind, thermoplastic and performance composite markets.

The Binani Group had a strategic ambition to partner with a European based fibre glass manufacturer with state of the art technology facilities to allow the Group to consolidate its fibreglass business.
Binani added: "We have ambitious objectives for the future which includes increasing our combined global capacity from 170,000tons today to more than 300,000tons in three to five years time."

Composite parts for diesel trains
Bayer Material Science has made a diesel train engine enclosure from composite materials.

Using its specially developed sandwich material, based on its Baypreg polyurethane spray system, the finished component is 35% lighter and 30% less expensive than a steel or aluminium counterpart. The parts are manufactured directly in their complex, three-dimensional shape using its spray and press process.

The railroad industry is increasingly thinking about weight reduction programs for diesel trains to reduce fuel consumption, costs and CO2 emissions. Despite the large part dimensions, the process provided excellent dimensional stability and control.

The enclosure is located beneath the train's passenger compartment just above the tracks so must be able to withstand rock impacts from below and be able to prevent oil from leaking onto the track bed.

The components are produced in a complex process using conventional epoxy or polyester resins. The sandwich structure is based on a honeycomb core covered on the top and bottom with glass fibre mats. It is sprayed from both sides with the Baypreg system, which contains the flame retardant and, optionally, cut glass fibres. The composite is then placed in a mould while it is still moist, and pressed at a temperature of 130°C. This causes the polyurethane system to react and foam slightly, binding the components firmly together.

Ultra durable thermoplastic material
Ultra durable polyamide composite materials have been introduced by PlastiComp. It says its maximum toughness (MT) long fibre (LFT) polyamides have the equivalent strength to industry standard LFT polyamides yet have up to twice the impact resistance of the standard material.

Reinforced with long glass fibres up to 60% by weight, MT composites offer good injection moulding processing characteristics capable of producing complex geometries with thin wall sections. The materials are colourable and suitable for structural applications having aesthetic requirements. Commercial applications include performance sports goods, consumer durables, and heavy appliances.

Standard LFT and enhanced MT polyamides exhibit improved impact resistance with increasing fibre loading. LFTs also have excellent cold temperature impact resistance down to -50°C.

Toughening technology for weight savings
Aimed at the aerospace industry, Henkel's Hysol EA 9845 SF, is an epoxy-based composite surfacing film, which contains a non-woven fabric that is designed to improve the surface quality of honeycomb stiffened composite parts. The product reduces surface imperfections and minimises prepaint preparation.

Following an ongoing engineering trend toward lightweight construction, aircraft manufacturers can save up to 30% weight compared to previous systems with Hysol EA 9845 SF. Through its low weight, the surfacing film from Henkel minimises core crush and reduces core mark-through.

The increased resistance to UV radiation before painting eliminates the need for sanding and rework prior to painting. Even without sanding, Hysol EA 9845 SF guarantees good paint adhesion which increases the durability of the finished surface of the composite part.

The innovative Hysol EA 9845 SF can be applied to the fuselage, wings, engine cowlings, and control surfaces among others.

The company also demonstrated a number of other adhesives specifically developed for fibre-reinforcement applications including hybrid and electric vehicles.

Justin Cunningham

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