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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

13th April 2017, UK

Considering continuity: From Jacquard to AFP

“When Joseph-Marie Jacquard replaced the chains for pre-set patterns with punched cards on weaving looms back in 1805, he invented the first digitally-controlled machine.”

This observation was made by Peter Dornier, CEO of the German weaving machinery and plastic films equipment manufacturer Dornier, which since 2014 has united its expertise in weaving fibre composite semi-finished products and the use of thermoplastic materials under the Dornier Composite Systems brand.

© Dornier

At JEC World 2017 in Paris, the company showcased three weaving machine models specially engineered for manufacturing semi-finished textiles – its proven mono rapier weaving unit, a new rapier weaving machine for 3D structures with a specifically-developed horizontal take-off for multilayer fabrics, and a specially developed tape weaving machine.


“The appeal of weaving is based precisely on the consistency of the materials produced, and it’s practised in an astounding range of variations these days,” said Peter Dornier. “The ability to manufacture wovens that are structured in three dimensions and with reproducible, digital quality will lead to their widespread and rapid adoption in composites. In the near future, we will undoubtedly be able to replace more metals with plastics than ever before, and also enhance the performance of metals or ceramics with textile reinforcement.

© Stäubli

“The benefits of fibre-reinforced composites are vast, and so far we have not even scratched the surface of the applications for mass-produced vehicles. The age of metal in the aerospace industry is already on the decline, and in hindsight will be nothing more than an interval in history, as a result of the issues surrounding CO2. My grandfather managed to fly his first aircraft made entirely of metal in 1916, at about the same time as Hugo Junkers. The material he used, aluminium, was the material of choice in this application field for just 80 years.

“Today, textile composite materials account for half the weight of modern aircraft, and for the Eurofighter it is 82%. In most cases unidirectional textiles are currently used, but  I am certain the demand for precisely-woven materials will increase.

© Stäubli

“Not only is a woven mass production part digital, but it can be manufactured with total reproducibility in a well-established production process. Consider an application like weaving car airbags, where a single technician oversees forty Dornier weaving machines. In a large fabric facility operated by a car maker to produce structural components from carbon, this is practically reversed. This shows what the weaving process has to offer in terms of globally distributable, industrial efficiency. The world’s leading airbag or tyre manufacturers already benefit from it every day, while large sections of the metal industry are still barely aware of what is coming.”


For its weaving systems, Dornier frequently partners with Swiss-headquartered Stäubli, which is a specialist in the Jacquard harnesses which feed the warp threads to the weaving machines – as many as 40,000 of them per single unit.

© Stäubli

Founded in 1892, it’s perhaps no surprise – given the equally digital nature of its starting technology – that Stäubli should have developed over the decades into a specialist in mechatronic solutions with annual sales of over CHF 1 billion and three divisions in 2017: Textiles, Connectors and Robotics.

As I commented in a previous editorial, robotic arms were in abundance at JEC World this year, among them a considerable number manufactured by Stäubli, such as that powering the astonishing live displays of Cevotec’s Samba fibre patch placement system.

© Cevotec

This and other new developments to be seen in Paris, such as the Innovation Award winning Voith Roving Applicator and Mikrosam’s latest automated tape laying (ATL) and automated fibre placement (AFP) technologies are ushering in a new era of digitisation and robotics for the high-speed creation of 3D fabrics and semi-formed parts.

It’s all very Industry 4.0 – but a direct and digital line of cause and effect can still be traced back to Joseph-Marie Jacquard, some 212 years ago.

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