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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

4th July 2019, Barcelona

A growing emphasis on composites at ITMA 2019

The new Karl Mayer Sim.Ply UD system. © Karl Mayer

The new Karl Mayer Sim.Ply UD system. © Karl Mayer

ITMA, the textile technology exhibition which takes place once every four years in Europe – known as ‘The Textile Machinery Olympics’ – was held from 20-26 June this year, attracting over 105,000 visitors to Barcelona, Spain.

The technologies of the 1,717 exhibitors from 45 countries on display are employed in producing a wide range of fibre-based products ranging from conventional clothing and home furnishings to more technical products such as construction materials and filter media, and increasingly, reinforcements for composites.

Non-crimp fabrics

Germany’s Karl Mayer for example, has already positioned itself as the leader in the field of multiaxial warp knitting machines for the production of non-crimp fabrics (NCFs) and at ITMA 2019 introduced a new line for the production of thermoplastic unidirectional tapes.

The new Sim.Ply UD system combines a completely revised spreading module with integrated impregnation technology for processing in a continuous, efficient sequence and seamless interface which guarantees a consistently high spreading quality.

With their high quality and the precise alignment of the continuous fibres, the tapes are ideal for use in highly stressed, fibre-reinforced, lightweight structures. With its high production speed and ability to produce tapes in a broad range of widths this new line is suitable for mass production processes.

Karl Mayer also demonstrated a range of products already made on the new Sim.Ply UD, notably concrete components reinforced with carbon or glass fibre NCFs rather than steel. With the use of textile concrete, it is possible to save up to 70% of the concrete and as a result, CO2 emissions, energy and component weight can all be reduced. Other promising applications of these technical fabrics in the construction sector include cost-effective, flexible, stable roofing materials and bitumen roofing felts, special plaster grids that increase the cracking resistance in the plaster, and self-adhesive tapes for repairing any cracks and holes that do occur.

In addition, a new bulletproof vest made from aramid NCFs that is both effective and comfortable to wear, produced on a COP MAX 5 multiaxial warp-knitting machine with an inline spreading process.

As noted elsewhere on this site Steiger of Switzerland has also recently been experiencing success in the field of knitted preforms for composites and introduced its Vega 3.130 compact knitting machine specifically designed for technical fabrics at ITMA 2019.

Needlepunching

Needlepunched nonwoven products are finding many new areas of application in the composites industry, including the re-use of carbon fibre waste, with car brands such as BMW already employing such materials in moulded parts, as well as in products made by the SMC (sheet moulding compounding) and compression moulding processes, which are now growing again in Europe.

One of the biggest exhibition stands at ITMA 2019 belonged to the DiloGroup, which displayed a complete and fully-operational diloline 4.0 range consisting of fibre opening and blending equipment, a carding unit, a crosslapper for compressing layers of nonwoven webs and the Hyperpunch Hα needlepunching unit.

“The diloline 4.0 has been equipped with a range of smart manufacturing functions developed in collaboration with Siemens, which further simplify operation and increase transparency in web forming and consolidation via the storage and rapid analysis of all machine data,” said the group’s CEO Johann-Philipp Dilo.

Several development I4.0 modules were demonstrated to illustrate the potential of today’s automation for improved operation control and maintenance and ultimately, better quality products.

Other key providers of needlepunched nonwoven technology included Autefa, which is currently completing the installation of a fourth production line at its technical centre in Linz, Austria, dedicated to materials based on carbon and other advanced fibres for composites, with partners such as aerospace components specialist FACC.

The EUR 3.5 million investment at the heart of a dedicated 6,000 square metre area is aimed not just at trials, but also full-scale production runs for third party OEMs and suppliers.

Weaving

Many weaving machinery manufacturers are now building special systems for fabrics made from glass and carbon, with the pioneer in this area being Germany’s Dornier. Italy’s Itema, however, has just launched a new company to be called Itematech, dedicated to technology for technical fabrics following its acquisition of the know-how of PTMT (formerly Panter) a specialist in the field.

Belgium-headquartered Vandewiele has also been involved in a number of recent research projects to develop next generation textiles for composites, as a key technology partner, for example, in the EUR 7.8 million 3D Lighttrans project that has led to the introduction of complex and cost-effective new 3D textile reinforcements for thermoplastic composites.

Dornier has also led the field in 3D weaving technology but at ITMA 2019 had a new rival in the UK’s Optima 3D’s patent-pending new Optima Series 500 system.

“The traditional approach to 3D weaving has been to modify older 2D technology, but we have embraced technical developments in machine control systems and designed and developed a next generation of 3Dweaving machines which offer very significant advantages,” explained managing director Steve Cooper. “In particular, the Optima design offers a much more flexible weaving capability, with excellent operator controls coupled to automatic systems for quality assurance and repeatability and its compact design enables much easier installation and integration into weaving processes.”

Industry 4.0

The over-arching theme at ITMA 2019 was Industry 4.0 and automation – an area in which composite manufacturers of course, are already well advanced – but with an abundance of robotic arms, AGVs and VR demonstrations at the Barcelona show, it appears the textile technology is now rapidly shaking of its ‘sunset industry’ image.

The new HelMo mobile robot system, for example, jointly developed by Switzerland’s Stäubli and Ontec of Germany, was autonomously driving and navigating as it moved bobbins between work stations and machines throughout the show. It is equipped with three laser scanners which permanently monitor its surroundings and ensure precise navigation and safety when working alongside human operators.

I will be looking more closely at automation advances for textile reinforcement technologies in a future editorial.

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