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9th April 2019, Paris

Sabic’s digital line is on track

Pictured (left to right) at JEC World 2019 are SABIC’s Gino Francato, Global Business Leader, Advanced Composites, Aline Stanworth, Global Communications Leader Specialties Markets and Recep Yaldiz, Program Manager Airborne Manufacturing Automation. © Inside Composites

Pictured (left to right) at JEC World 2019 are SABIC’s Gino Francato, Global Business Leader, Advanced Composites, Aline Stanworth, Global Communications Leader Specialties Markets and Recep Yaldiz, Program Manager Airborne Manufacturing Automation. © Inside Composites

Just a year after announcing its intention to build an automated digital composites manufacturing line for rapid, large-scale laminate manufacturing, Sabic was able to show interactive films of it in action to invited guests at JEC World 2019 in Paris.

“We have marked an important milestone for this project, which will help industrialise thermoplastic composite laminate fabrication, enabling broader adoption of this material across a range of industries,” said Sabic’s global business manager Gino Francato.

The line, located in The Netherlands, has been built in partnership with Airborne and is powered by Siemens factory automation and digital control software, assisted by Kuka robots.

In March 2018, Sabic made the decision to invest in Airborne in order to develop and realise the digital and manufacturing infrastructure that would serve as a backbone for such thermoplastic composite automation technologies. Airborne is a leader in the design, production and industrialisation of advanced composite products for the aerospace and marine sectors.

“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,” explained Francato.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.

“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 we three companies sat around the table, which was a great starting point. Our initial aim was to get to know the process, with warpage prediction being critical, and fast consolidation time – the goal was 60-seconds per part. Warpage can be a real issue because these parts are deceptively simple and achieving defect-free reproducibility involves controlling a complex number of parameters. Now, however, we are pleased to be able to show the line in action, producing these parts fault-free and with perfect surfaces, at a rate of one every 16 seconds.”

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.

For ultimate flexibility, the line can be remotely operated, and can run multiple laminate sizes simultaneously. Machine learning concepts are being employed to fine-tune quality and adaptive process control is allowing settings to be modified on the fly.

Udmax tape is a highly-versatile unidirectional, fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composite used in automated and manual laminating, as well as other manufacturing processes including stamping and pressing, thermoforming, and winding with or without injection overmoulding.

“Thermoplastic composites are prized for their light weight and exceptional strength but the industry has not yet moved at the speed many expected,” Francato concluded. “We’re changing that, and our aim is to drive broader use of these advanced materials across multiple industries by replacing existing production processes which are slow, costly and labour and waste-intensive.”

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