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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

15th August 2018, Stuttgart

Opportunities in machine manufacturing

Machine manufacturing with composite structures is an often overlooked field, with the quantities still too small and the challenges too complex to make a serious impact compared to automotive, construction, aerospace and wind power applications.

However, there are many niche areas with high potential and composites are becoming increasingly attractive to machine manufacturers due to their outstanding lightweight construction properties.

Composites Europe takes place in Stuttgart, Germany, from November 6-9. © Composites Europe

They are characterised by low density and mass, high strength and stiffness, abrasion, corrosion, temperature and chemical resistance, adjustable thermal expansion coefficient and electrical conductivity, with the potential to also incorporate smart components.

Glass and carbon composites are currently employed in the production of, among other things, gripper systems, cones, con rods, oscillating beams or buncher bows, blades, robot arms, springs, drive shafts, rollers and components for machine tools.

According to a recent survey by Composites Germany, this is an area which is likely to achieve significant growth going forward, although machinery and plant manufacturers are still hesitant about using composites.

In various applications, the use of high vibration-dampening, lightweight composites can achieve a substantial reduction in moving masses which is extremely advantageous for highly precise machine tools, especially those that are being designed with smaller drives and for lower machining forces. They can achieve a rise in precision and quality, as well as in machine and tool life.

Glass fibre composites are predominantly used for profiles or tubes and tanks – especially those of large diameters – and are produced by spinning or wrapping processes. The potential here is enormous, since composites currently account for just 3-5% of the overall market.

In machinery manufacturing, carbon composites are predominantly used as sandwich and profile structures while semi-finished parts are increasingly joined by gluing. These components are suitable for very stiff structures that make for a very high positioning precision, even when exposed to enormous acceleration forces. A targeted selection of fibres and corresponding layering allows an advantageous E-modulus to be achieved that is almost twice as high as that of steel, despite very low weight. Carbon composites can also be designed for minimum thermal expansion.

Technological advances in the process chain are among the current drivers pushing the development of efficient lightweight construction solutions and their implementation in high-volume production say the organisers of Composites Europe, which takes place in Stuttgart, Germany, from November 6-9.

It will showcase all the manufacturing processes used to make fibre-reinforced plastics, from raw materials and processing methods to lightweight construction innovations.

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