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5th April 2018, Paris

Interview with Gino Francato, Global Business Manager, SABIC

A leading chemical specialist SABIC featured several new innovations in materials and manufacturing at JEC World 2018 last month. Inside Composites spoke to Gino Francato, Global Business Manager, at the show.

Please can you supply a quick overview of SABIC?

Gino Francato: SABIC is a global leader in diversified chemicals headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We manufacture on a global scale in the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific, making distinctly different kinds of products – chemicals, commodity and high performance plastics, agri-nutrients and metals.  The company has more than 34,000 employees worldwide and operates in more than 50 countries.

Gino Francato, Global Business Manager, SABIC. © Inside Composites

We have 11,534 global patent filings, and have significant research resources with innovation hubs in five key geographies – USA, Europe, Middle East, South Asia and North Asia.

The Saudi Arabian government owns 70% of SABIC shares with the remaining 30% publicly traded on the Saudi stock exchange.

Specifically for the composites industry, you launched the new UDMAX GPE 46-70 tape for the pipe and pressure vessel reinforcement industry at JEC World 2018 in Paris. What are its key benefits?

GF: This is the latest addition to our expanding portfolio of UDMAX unidirectional fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composite tape products and it offers unmatched tensile strength, with one of the highest glass contents available.

Using our proprietary HPFIT high-pressure fibre impregnation technology, it can be combined with thermoplastic resins for optimised impregnation. When used to reinforce oil, gas and water pipes, as well as boilers and storage tanks, our customers can significantly increase mechanical performance while reducing weight and help improve corrosion resistance in the most demanding environments. As a replacement for metal and other traditional materials it offers exceptional lightweight and high strength and HPFIT quickly and precisely enables the dispersion of thousands of glass or carbon fibres within a thermoplastic matrix.

The company has invested in the composites industry’s first automated, digital system for the large-scale manufacturing of laminates made with its continuous fibre reinforced thermoplastic composite (CFRTC) tapes. © SABIC

At JEC World 2018 you also showcased the new Digital Composites Manufacturing line with Airborne and Siemens, what is motivating this development?

GF: Thermoplastic composites are prized for their light weight and exceptional strength but the industry is not moving at the speed that many expected and the push has to come from big companies like us. Now is the time for thermoplastics and it will only happen through collaboration.

We believe that mainstream adoption has lagged due to shortcomings in existing production processes, which are slow, costly and labour and waste-intensive. Our aim is to drive broader use of these advanced materials across multiple industries.

As such, we have invested in the composites industry’s first automated, digital system for the large-scale manufacturing of laminates made with our continuous fibre reinforced thermoplastic composite (CFRTC) tapes.

What’s the background to this development?

GF: It was back in 2012 that we first decided to establish a platform for continuous fibre and decided that rather than fabrics, we would go straight to thermoplastic unidirectional tapes to achieve the maximum light weight performance.

We viewed the consumer electronics market as a very big, fast-moving industry and started with the development of polycarbonate carbon fibre solutions for laptop covers.

Our initial aim was to get to know the process, with warpage prediction being critical, and fast consolidation time – the goal was 60-seconds.

Continuous fibre reinforced thermoplastic composite (CFRTC) tapes. © SABIC

What is the relationship with Airborne?

GF: We are not a machine builder, but a materials company and we were looking to collaborate with machine builders but couldn’t find one that could make the machine we needed. That’s where Airborne came in, with its long experience in manufacturing of composites.

Airborne brought in Siemens and the three companies sat around the table, which was a great starting point.

Airborne is a leader in the design, production and industrialization of advanced composite products for the aerospace and marine sectors. It is on a growth path to become the leading platform in automated composite manufacturing technologies. In March this year, SABIC made the decision to invest in Airborne in order to develop and realise the digital and manufacturing infrastructure that will serve as a backbone for thermoplastic composite automation technologies.

The result of all of this activity is the new large-scale manufacturing line being built by Airborne at its facility in The Netherlands using Siemens factory automation and digital control software. Can you provide a few details?

GF: For ultimate flexibility, this system can be remotely operated, and can run multiple laminate sizes simultaneously. Machine learning concepts will be used to fine-tune quality and adaptive process control will allow settings to be modified on the fly.

The Digital Composites Manufacturing line will be supported by predictive engineering capabilities at SABIC’s Centre of Excellence in The Netherlands. Predictive engineering for laminates and hybrid parts made of UDMAX tapes is based on computer-aided engineering (CAE) software that uses material data and material modelling (such as elastic properties and damage initiation/rupture behaviour) to create simulations of how the composite material will perform during the part processing and in an application during its use.

It can produce multiple thermoplastic composite laminates every minute, achieving over a million parts annually.  We established the plans for the fully automated line a year ago and it is slated to go live early 2019. It will aim to offer customisation capabilities using sophisticated technologies and processes that can drive down cycle time and system costs.

The company developed polycarbonate carbon fibre solutions for laptop covers. © SABIC

It is based on the HPFIT concept for thin carbon fibre tapes, and a multiple feeder system involving robotics and moving trays.

Rapid mass production of high-quality, fully customised thermoplastic composite parts at an affordable cost will soon be a reality and the upcoming launch of our Digital Composites Manufacturing line – as the composites industry’s first large-scale production solution – is a major step towards that goal.

By responding to our customers’ needs for increasingly lighter, yet stronger and thinner products on a large scale, we will soon be enabling our customers to leverage the advantages of SABIC’s laminates to achieve not only weight-out, but also design flexibility and shorter production cycle times for device covers – more effectively than ever before.

* UDMAX and HPFIT are trademarks of SABIC and/or its affiliates.

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