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20th February 2019, Bremervörde

Radius-Pultrusion for mass production of automotive CFRP parts

Curved lightweight bumpers made out of carbon and glass fibre using the Radius Pultrusion process. © Thomas Technik & Innovation

Curved lightweight bumpers made out of carbon and glass fibre using the Radius Pultrusion process. © Thomas Technik & Innovation

At this year’s JEC World, pultrusion specialist Thomas Technik & Innovation (TTI) will showcase manufacturing technology that can produce affordable carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) parts in high-enough volumes for the mainstream automotive industry.

Visitors to TTI’s stand and the Automotive Planet will see a CFRP bumper (fender), 100,000 of which could be manufactured each year using the company’s innovative Radius-Pultrusion process. “There are not many CFRP manufacturing processes that can do these numbers,” said Sebastian Mehrtens, TTI Sales Engineer.

The process enables the manufacture of curved and coiled profiles. “In the normal pultrusion process you have a mould that is stationary and two grippers or a caterpillar that pull the fibres through a heated mould. In our Radius-Pultrusion process, we move the mould,” explained Mr Mehrtens.

Radius-Pultrusion process

The mould grips incoming resin-impregnated carbon fibre material at the upstream end of the line, then moves downstream through a curve, curing the profile as it proceeds towards a stationary gripper. The gripper stays open as the cured profile is pushed through it towards an automated cut-off saw, and only closes when the mould reaches it. The gripper holds the cured profile in place while the die opens and returns upstream to pull and cure the next length of curved material.

Further to producing parts for customers on its Radius-Pultrusion machines, TTI is licensing the technology to others. For instance, the bumper to be shown at JEC World is a generic part manufactured by Thomas Technik customer Shape Corp. It comprises a thermoset resin reinforced with carbon fibre veils and rovings. “When people think of pultrusion, they tend to think of unidirectionally reinforced, simple parts, but with Radius-Pultrusion complex reinforcements such as non-crimp fabrics can be used,” said Mr Mehrtens.

The process can be carried out with minimal human intervention. “Radius-Pultrusion is highly automated; it’s a start and-stop process comparable with injection moulding,” he added. This is said to ensure that the resulting parts can be produced in the volumes and with the consistency demanded by the automotive industry.

Quick and efficient

Further, different profiles can be manufactured quickly and efficiently using just one Radius-Pultrusion line, the company reports. With conventional pultrusion lines it can take up to seven hours to switch from producing one profile to another. With a Radius-Pultrusion line, this process can be carried out in under an hour.

“Pultrusion looks very simple, but twenty years ago when we built our own pultrusion line for the first time, we realised that there can be quite a steep learning curve. So when we sell a pultrusion line, we offer our development expertise to our customers as they produce their first profile. Learning how to make moulds and guide the fibres and so on, that’s the know-how that we provide,” concluded Mr Mehrtens.

Based in Bremervörde, Germany, TTI is part of family-owned Thomas Holding and has over 200 employees. It has been involved extensively in the research, development and manufacture of composites for the last 25 years and in 2009 it unveiled the Radius Pultrusion process, for which it was presented with JEC Innovation Awards in both 2010 and 2016.

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